I have been curious about the Alien Skin Exposure software plugin for Photoshop for a long time. With the third iteration, Exposure3 has taken their film simulation software even further. Read on for examples and reviews…
*Authors note: Link to Alien Skin’s Newsletter showing this article here!
To those who’ve come from the newsletter, welcome!!!
(March 2012) Now that Exposure 4 has been released, you can read my updated review HERE!
I have been having a bit of a film renaissance of late. I have been going through rolls of 120 like they were back in style and I have been loving my new/old analogue experience. There is just something about film that no matter what, will always have a place in my heart (much like listening to vinyl, just a different experience that is still directly irreplaceable). The development team behind Exposure 3 has obviously translated a film based passion into a brilliant digital medium allowing digital photographers the ability to create beautiful film-like reproductions from a digital file. From color recreation and cross processing down to grain structure, everything has been meticulously thought out and digitally replicated.
The picture above of the lovely Kristine was processed in the Color Film interface of Exposure 3 using a cross processed Fuji Provia 100F / Lomo LC-A filter instantly transforming the image into a look that suited my intention for the final product. Here is the same picture, it’s original as well as a cross section of a few different film filters (out of hundreds available) just for a little taste of how differently you can make one image look depending on your taste.
Whether you are an old film shooter that longs for the look of film, a wedding, studio or event shooter looking to provide a more film like “look” or just someone who would like to incorporate a film look with endless modification into your own personal work flow, this is a really, really cool plugin. I use the term film somewhat loosely as any one of these filters stands entirely on its own merit whether you are going for a “film look” or not. Also, most every film preset is available ‘without grain’ for those looking to maintain a grain-less image file, so there you go, or if you have three extra seconds, you can turn the grain off! All of the color, contrast and saturation replication without the grain.
Why would you want to revert your digital files into film replications? Why not just shoot film?
A couple reasons really, first, because we already have the digital equipment, and secondly you don’t have to deal with chemicals, or wait (and pay) to have film developed, then scan, then digitally tweak your files. Don’t get me wrong, I love film and fully support it as a medium for anyone wanting to shoot it, but I’m also a realist, and film just doesn’t make sense in certain shooting situations in the new digital landscape, but it sure is nice to get images that have a more film-like look sometimes…
While I’ve mentioned before how funny I think it is that I have invested thousands and thousands of dollars in digital equipment, software and the like to replicate an image that came from a Holga or a roll of expired film, I feel that one of the coolest aspects of modern digital photography is the infinite amount of tools available. I enjoy shooting film as well, but it just isn’t as practical (nor cost effective) for many modern applications. You have these beautiful, high resolution digital files right? Why not twist, tweak and play with them? With Exposure 3, not only can I get the look of older Kodachrome, or Provia, or Fujichrome but I can have a nearly endless amount of ‘looks’ all from one file. For me, it is not a question of why, but why not?
Here is a shot where I used my 5DII as an overpriced light meter for shots using Kodak Portra 160NC film in a Hasselblad 500 C/M. The set up shot with the 5DII is digitally processed in Exposure 3 as noted, and my film was scanned to a 2400dpi Tiff resulting in 24+MB file to gain a close resolution, to my eye at 100% anyway. Keep in mind that I use a cheap Epson scanner and really should look to upgrade it, but for the time being, it is what I have (and have to say, I’m happy with for the most part, but that’s neither here nor there). The color reproduction from the scanned negatives are less than perfect, so it isn’t the best way to directly compare, but I have to admit, my original optical prints are much closer to the reproduction of the Exposure 3 files after I’ve printed them even on my inkjet printer!
The 5D’s digital file processed in Exposure 3 has a visibly warmer/more magenta tint which is actually closer to the optical print directly from the negative than the scanned file above shows. I guess you’re just going to have to trust me as my scanner isn’t going to do my argument justice. And before you ask, yes my white balance was manually set for the daylight film WB, all settings were identical and the light output was the same for both shots to achieve as close a rendering and controlled a test as I could provide.
While Exposure 3 has an amazing library of color films, with infinitely tweak-able parameters, it also has a wonderful cache of black and white films to boot. I’d like to take time later on comparing this software with the NIK Silver Efex Pro which also has a black and white film generator involved, and has been my go to for black and white digital processing. Having only put the Exposure software through its paces over the last couple of weeks, I must say, it is becoming my favorite plugin to work with for both color and b/w processing. One major reason for this is the interface.
After processing an image in Photoshop, it automatically places the filter on it’s own layer allowing you to further tweak, mask or alter it’s opacity or blend mode adding even more variables to the process.
The curves tab within the Exposure 3 interface is beautifully laid out and uses a series of sliders as opposed to relying on our ability to use manually placed points (a-la photoshop, et al) and provides a much more balanced, controlled (and understandable) manipulation for me. You can, of course, grab and drag points as you would in Photoshop, but the fine tuning, and easy to understand sliders, provide the average user a much better experience. You can manipulate, vignette, age (which adds or subtracts scratches and dust), modify grain structure, apply processing tweaks and use other amazingly well thought out tools. Think of it as a true digital darkroom where you are actually processing your files as if they were film or slides, without the chemicals or clean up.
The library of black and white films are enough to justify the price for the plugin itself. Giving the user the same tools to manipulate, cross process, vignette and develop your image files into black and white is well though out and very user friendly.
Grain is good, noise is bad. You can get away with a bit of noise and maybe even a little further if you process your digital images into black and white, but anyone who’s spent much time inspecting their images know that digital noise just looks different than older film grain. I love the grain generation in Exposure 3. It does in fact look like film grain, not digital noise and that is a good thing in my eyes. Here is a 100% crop of the final image above:
Of course you can play with masking different filters in photoshop for varying effect. This was an effort to play with the idea of my previous post using selective color in black and white processing, this time using Exposure 3.
A very well thought out interface with some serious photo editing tools enabling beautiful results.
For those interested in trying out the software, you can request a free download trial from the Alien Skin website here: http://www.alienskin.com/downloads/
To buy the software, you can purchase directly from Alien Skin’s website as well here: https://www.alienskin.com/store/
Jimmy Beech does a great job at providing informative, easy to follow video tutorials here: http://www.alienskin.com/exposure/videos.aspx
I’d certainly suggest spending the half an hour or so to view these videos if you’re interested in the software to see what it can do, and how quick and easy it is to process images using the tools available in Exposure 3.
I have been interested in other software that Alien Skin produces and hope to be able to review others in the future. At this time, I can’t say personally that I’d go with the Photo-Bundle definitively to save by purchasing each of the individual software plugins as I have no personal experience, but it might be very worth while depending on your needs and budget. If Exposure 3 is any indication of the tools their other software can enable a modern digital image maker, they are definitely worth looking into.
It is hard for me to put a price on how worthwhile any particular software is for the average photographer. Some of us may have a limited budget and a $250usd software plugin may be a bit out of reach. Some of us may see the beauty in spending a reasonable amount on tools to provide our photography with a new spin. Others of us may have no reservation when we realize how little the investment may be for the output and potential income it can provide be that from event shooting, print making or the like. Being that you will already have invested in either Photoshop and/or Lightroom to gain access to these plugins, I’d say we understand the cost in these new digital tools. I think this plugin for any wedding or studio shooter would be a no brainer, even if they already owned the NIK Color/Silver Efex software. The cost to benefit is so low it just makes sense. For any photographer, pro or not, looking for the versatility or the ability to create a signature look would not be let down by this plugin either. For me, this has been one of the most versatile plugins I’ve ever seen. Not only do you gain all of the color film filters and all of the customization the software provides, but you have a black and white film plugin with the same interface and customization that definitely rivals Silver Efex Pro, and arguably provides a more extensive and user friendly interface, albeit without Nik’s U-point technology. After digging through the plugin and playing around with some of my own images, I’m a big fan.
Find all of the Alien Skin software, including tutorials, bundles and free trial versions HERE.
All images are ©tyson robichaud photography2010 and the Exposure 3 logo was used with permission from Alien Skin Software.
(*Just in case you’re wondering, I am in no way affiliated with Alien Skin. I just think their stuff is cool and think you might too!)
Brother, I really like your work, but man o’ man…..
Your example of Portra 160, the two photo’s on a very well calibrated monitor, like night and day.
I’ve not yet seen one single s/w product that comes close to a well scanned negative (or positive, i.e., E6/Pola etc)
Really want that look? Shoot it.
I hear you Tom. I tried my best to add the disclaimer, and I wholly blame my scanner. The original print from the negative and the print from the processed RAW file are much, much closer than the digitized files appear to be here. I do agree though, if you want the genuine product, there really isn’t a digital replacement, although I think this plugin comes damn close, and certainly closer than I’ve ever seen any other I’ve used come before. I would scan the two prints, but, well… Maybe one day I will invest in a decent scanner and redo the comparison. Thanks for the read.
Thanks for the excellent post. I’m currently playing around a bit with the demo of Exposure 3.
I really am an avid digital photographer but lately have been reading and looking at so much film stuff that I feel that a plugin like Exposure 3 is really something which I should invest in.
I just started playing around with Lomo’s (hardly a serious film investment) and I don’t think I can go back to a time of waiting for film to develop…no matter how much I like the look and feel.
Well, keep up the good work and I’ll be checking out your blog more in future 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read through and comment. I’ve been contemplating buying a lomo too! While I don’t think I’ll ever go back to shooting film exclusively, I think that I will always keep a film camera or two around. The act of shooting a roll is just a different experience. Kind of a nice personal ‘recalibration’ of sorts, and something I really enjoy. It’s also an exercise in patience which I certainly need from time to time. For the times that I want that, I’ll load a roll and go, but most of the time, I’ve just been so used to the benefits that digital has offered and really enjoy the ability to alter a single digital file in numerous ways. I’m not a photojournalist so I don’t mind digitally altering an image, some more than others.
I’m curious to hear about your experience with Exposure. I have had my eye on it for a couple years and now that I’ve actually used it, I feel it offers such a cool skill set for a plugin. Also, beautiful imagery on your website! I just glanced through a couple of your albums so I’ll head back there to take a closer look.
Cute baby in your blog images. Is he taken?
Well, I’d thought that he was already involved in a couple potential arranged marriage situations, but things can change 🙂
i really apologize if you mention this, but I had to do a quick scan on my way out and thought I’d comment…for us film shooters, have you tried using this program on your scanned film? i.e. what happens when you put the velvia 50 mask over a scanned kodachrome?
I’ve not tried running a scanned negative file through yet, but I will have to and report back. I mentioned it before, but my scanner is what some may call, well, crap, so unfortunately I won’t be able to be very helpful with a direct example.
This really confuses me. Why would anyone want to shoot film, scan a neg and then use s/w such as this to that digital file.
I am very pro digital but I don’t understand that process. Would it not be better to get better control of your scanning process. I have to concide that it’s a learning process, you may have to pay a bit more for 3rd party scanning software, i.e., VueScan or Silverfast AI but to use Exposure 3 on top of that does not make any sense at all. I would then shoot native digital and use this before I’d do that, which is cool but not for me.
Thanks for an interesting and well written thread.
I guess simply because we can, really. I don’t think it would make sense in the general scheme of things when looking at it literally, but like so many things now, if it is available, what’s the harm in trying.
I think too many photographers approach digital photography the way that they had already approached film photography and look to define the newer medium by the same standards and/or techniques. I have to admit, up until the last couple years I had taken that approach. Now, I am gaining appreciation for photography as something entirely different than is was for me in the past and have moved into a place where I can appreciate taking pictures with a variety of different outcomes. Some more traditional, others purely with the intention of creating something more in the “digital art” realm than by the past photographic definitions I’ve gone by. I am only a purist when I want to be a purist, and on the other hand, I’m sure I have gone WAY too far over to the other side with digital manipulation in other cases where someone who is more anti-digital would look at it and gag 🙂
I guess I feel that at times, photography to me is more artistic than defined or needing to adhere to a more traditional mantra, and who knows what the results may be by trying different techniques. I don’t think that scanning a negative and playing around with software would be the best way to try and digitally change from one film type to another, but it might look cool. I guess it entirely depends on what you would want, need or expect from a software plugin like Exposure. Like I’d mentioned in the ramblings above, each of these “film” filters can completely stand on their own merit purely from an artistic standpoint if you’re to see them less literally and more creatively. I think that they provide a nice creative potential and may be able to provide those looking for a less traditional outcome the ability to artistically ‘alter’ their image. As always I appreciate your input and the continuing dialogue. It really has helped me in answering all of these questions for myself. (I’d not really thought too deeply about why I’d do this until actually going through the process!) Thanks Tom.
You are one amazing writer and have an awesome way of expressing and communicating your thoughts.
This was excellent. Thanks
I really appreciate it. I continue to get so much from all of the dialogue and THIS is why I try to continue to fumble around on this blog. I don’t really know exactly what I want to get out of much of it until we start getting into discussion. I’ve been trying really hard to be open to the changing world around me… (especially being a new father) and I see so much that can be made available as long as I’m just able to shift my perception a little be that with photography, or otherwise. Now, I am going to try and wrap my brain around video capture in a still camera… Gotta try and capture these fleeting moments!
Cheers and thanks again,
Who has the time for all this photo manipulation? Photoshop has to be the biggest suck of time as people spend 5 hours on 1 photo that is viewed for maybe 45 seconds total, 5 seconds by each grandparent, the rest aunts and uncles.
At this point, the sheer economy of time savings for film makes sense. I make $11/hour at work in front of a PC. Last thing I need is more leisure time in front of a PC!
Who has the time? Well, I do I guess. Firstly, the beauty of purchasing plugins like Exposure is that it turns a potentially lengthy task into a 10 second ordeal as one major point to this type of software is the automation. Of course you could spend more time on it if you wanted and for many of us, we do want to spend more time on and with our images.
For me, I don’t really care if anyone looks at my images (at least for my personal work) and the only one I’m really concerned about being happy with the end product is me. If that takes me 30 seconds, 30 minutes or 3 hours, as long as I’m enjoying it, I could care less. I, for one, have embraced post production as part of the process though, so I see it as fun. I’m sure not everyone shares that sentiment, but I do honestly enjoy spending some of my free time ‘playing around’ with images. I won’t dedicate equal amounts of time for each image, but for those I see potential in, I have no problem spending as much time as I feel fit on them.
I guess if film makes more sense for you, it’s a great time for the modern film photographer as you can find film equipment for super cheap. (I have some film cameras myself and enjoy finding deals on those too!) It all comes down to personal choices. For you, your time may be better spent somewhere other than in front of a computer, where plugins may be a compelling alternative by quickly automating cool effects, for me, I allocate some of my free time to be spent in front of a computer. No big deal as long as we’re both happy doing what we do.
$110/hr should certainly get you enough film and film equipment to keep you shooting for a while!
Sorry to jump in. As someone who has shot film since the eighties and switched over to digital at the last minute, I must say I find digital way less time consuming. Aristophanes, have you ever tried to colour correct and dust spot a Velvia 50 slide? Do you know how much drum scanning costs? What about getting it printed? Do you know how much of a pain it is? Digital is great because you can spend as little, or as much, time as you want to get the look you want. I would never want to go back to being a slave to the lab. And for your information, Photoshop retouching has been around far longer than digital photography. I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent watching a digital technician at my favourite lab trying to get the colours “right” on a drum scanned slide. I’m not trying to be a prick, I just get annoyed with misinformation that film shooting is some how “purer” or less time consuming.
Sorry, make that $110/hour!
There are other products which do this too – like DXO optics and Nik Color Effects Pro (one of their modules) – which I have already, and so I am very interested to see some sort of comparison. Why should I buy a third plugin to do the same thing as the other two? Ease of use, or better quality?
I used film myself, but never more than 4 or 5 brands and I can not remember very well what the differences were other than high ISO meant high grain and high contrast. Digitally, many of these same effects are easily created by making your own action with some levels, noise, and hue/saturation. So there needs to be some real justifcation.
Thanks for reading through.
I use the Nik Software plugins as well, primarilly Color and Silver Efex Pro (I’m not familiar with DXO unfortunately). To directly compare CEP and Exposure’s Color filter module is a bit difficult as neither does exactly what the other does. CEP has some very cool presets and I am a big fan of Nik’s U-point which allows for selective adjustments. I think of CEP as a ‘better’ Topaz Adjust (which I also use from time to time) more than directly comparable to Exposure. I’d always been interested in Exposure whenever I’d seen an advert or heard about it mentioned and I have to say I’m glad I’ve been able to use it. First, because I have really enjoyed the quick application of their film filters, and secondly because of their interface which I feel provides much better control, for global changes anyway. Many of the film filters provide a very unique look whether you’re going for a “film” look or not. The fact that it really closely resembles the film it’s replicating is almost just an extra benefit if that makes sense. As for Exposure3 vs Silver Efex Pro, I think it is a closer comparison. Up until using Exposure3, I’d used SEP exclusively for my black and white processing. For my personal taste and workflow, I feel that Exposure provides a much better piece of software than SEP does. The one thing I would miss is again the U-point for localized adjustment. The big epiphany I’ve had with Exposure is for more or less the same price as either Color OR Silver Efex Pro individually, you get both Exposure’s Color AND Black and White adjustment presets. If I’d not already invested in NIK and was looking at CEP/SEP vs. Exposure 3, I would certainly take a hard look by downloading the free trials of all three and see how they compared for my personal taste.
How many plugins do any of us need? I don’t think ANY plugins are necessary, but more enable a photographer different abilities. Whether those abilities are worth the price is for any one of us to determine. Again, I would really suggest downloading trials for any software or plugins that anyone would be interested in and spend a little time with all of the free tutorials these companies have put together to see how useful they might be.
Thanks again for taking the time to read through and comment.
I wanted to get back to you (and others following this post) on my experiences with Exposure 3.
The past few weeks I had my annual vacation and therefore had some more free time which I also used to catch up on some postproduction work.
Normally my workflow consists of Nikon Capture NX2 and afterwards sometimes some Photoshop work, often using the Totally Radical Actions set of plugins. Recently I have noticed though that often the result is not ‘real’ enough. It simply feels like the photographer spent more time working out something in postproduction instead of letting the original work shine through.
Therefore I was pleased to have stumbled upon Exposure 3 as it cuts down on the majority of gimmicks and tricks found in other plugins.
In order to illustrate my experiences I’ll add some examples below, both before and after using Exposure 3.
Two important remarks concerning my way of using it:
1.I hardly ever change anything to the presets. The conversion is usually very good in itself without me toying with the many advanced options (and thus spending more time, rather than LESS time in postproduction)
2.Most film filters in Exposure 3 come in two versions: normal and grain off. I have always used the ‘grain off’ version as I think artificially introducing grain on an image is a bridge too far. My attitude might change but for now I’m sticking to whatever grain/noise the original image has.
Example 1: Street parade Borgerrio (Antwerp, Belgium)
Not bad but the I was there and everything was just a LOT more vibrant and colourful!
With Exposure 3 (Kodak Ultra Color 100UC): http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4800669456/in/set-72157624391357437/
This looks much better!
Example 2: Graffiti and street art in Lisbon, Portugal
The harsh sunlight has put something of a greyish ‘veil’ over the entire photograph, reducing both colours and contrast.
With Exposure 3 (Lomo – Kodak Film): http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4828537458/in/set-72157624456208839/
See how the colour has returned and how it seems to leap off the wall. It was really a great piece of work in one of the vibrant parts of the city.
Example 3: When I get that Cinderella feeling
With Exposure 3 (Color Photo – Warm skin (fading) and extra vignetting):
Now there’s something magical about it, fairytale like…
It’s also possible to get other results, by using for example expired film stock characteristics.
Example 4: Landscape has no owner
With Exposure 3 (Fuji NPS160 Expired) and extra vignetting: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4847371840/
The examples above all concern colour film but I also really enjoy the available black and white filters.
Illford HP5 Plus 400:
Apartheid for chairs: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4847275110/
Illford Delta 100:
Oriente Station: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4847296794/in/set-72157624623681436/
I hope this helps people a little in judging the plugin. The real way to test it would of course be to download the trial and test everything for yourself 🙂
As a final note though it might be worth adding that I have also recently started shooting film. It’s very interesting to shoot the same locations both digitally and on film to compare the results. The examples below all have grain but I feel that it is truly part of the image, rather than a trick added later:
Colour film (Fuji)
Chair in hotel room: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4827804185/in/set-72157624580716332/
Shattered glass: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4828398556/in/set-72157624456021137/
Funky shop window: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4828401618/in/set-72157624456021137/
Black and white film (Kodak T-Max 400 and Fuji Acros)
Defining beauty: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4850574198/
Just a glimpse: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisco/4850573006/
Well, that took me some time 😀
I’m very glad that you did take the time! Thank you for taking the time to link and share all of that. I believe that I feel very similarly to you in that I do really enjoy this plugin. Each separate film filter provides a very distinct look on its own, and as you’ve mentioned, doesn’t need any further tweaking, it is just nice to have the control if and when one would want it. I’ve been back and forth with a couple of people who offer free presets/actions, (see the next newest blog article) and I would be very interested to see if we could add some Exposure saved ‘presets’ to share. I’ve played around a little with a couple of them to fine tune them to the particular images I’d worked on and found that it has created a nice preset of its own on a couple of them. How many options are too many options? I guess it can get carried away, but it would be cool to see what others have come up with.
Thanks for coming back and sharing your beautiful images.
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