*Exposure 4, it just keeps getting better.

I’ve been a huge fan of Alien Skin’s software for years now so I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m excited by their recent update to an already killer plugin.  Exposure 4 keeps the functional structure in tact and further enhances its skill set to fine tune it into a plugin that will help any photographer, or digital artist further realize their final vision.

Read on for my experience through this exciting new release…

A combination of a sharpening layer, Lith treatment layer and an Agfa 100 grain replication

The first difference is that you don’t have to initially specify Black and White, or Color filters when getting into the program and are able to now switch much more fluidly within the plugin.  The good news for upgraders is when opening an image in Exposure 4, you will feel at first glance that little has really changed.  For any previous users, you’ll feel right at home, in fact, any presets you have saved will follow you into Exposure 4, or at least mine did.  I was really excited about that as I’ve fine tuned quite a few presets to my own personal taste in Exposure 3 that I wasn’t looking forward to attempting to manually replicate like I’ve had to do with other plugins.  As you start to play around you notice that the interface, while familiar, is completely different and much more streamlined.  The settings/filters stay on the left, but the Color, Tone, Focus, Grain, IR(new) and Age tabs move to the right making way for a real time preview window at the top left, and giving all your adjustments more room for sliders, histograms, curves and the like on the right.  This makes switching between presets so much easier as you can do so while still tinkering with settings on the right and not having to click back on the Settings tab to get back to the presets as we’ve had to in the past.  There is a very handy search field and toggle between (Factory & User) defined presets just above the Settings as well.  Have a look:

*click for lager view

Just as in previous releases, the film replications, grain structure, densities and traditional filters are beautifully recreated in digital form with the ability to tweak everything to suit a particular need.    Added in this release are much more concise aging/texture tools and control along with many new finely tuned filters.  I counted 454 preset filters, all of which are completely user adjustable.  A quick CMND(CNTRL) + “S” will save any adjustments as a preset into the “User” list on the left, handy for wanting to replicate a look or consistently process a series.  A key difference that I found immediately was the lack of filters being replicated in the menus with and without grain.  This is awesome.  To me, I was always switching between, say Portra 160 NC and Portra 160 NC no grain to see exactly how the default setting of the grain structure looked in any particular image.  I would usually tend to gravitate toward the “no grain” option, and then introduce grain as my last step (in the cases where I’ve wanted to).  Now, all filters are what they are, and you can toggle the grain on or off globally for all presets, on the Grain tab.  You can also adjust the overall opacity of any preset under the Color tab (see above screen shot).

Using the new and improved halation settings to smooth skin and further enhance background blur.

As always, Jimmy from Alien Skin has laid out many of the new features in Exposure 4 via videos on the Alien Skin website.  (see link below next pic)

One tutorial I found fun to follow along with is this vintage “Glamour” treatment:

You can see the step by step (as well as many awesome Exposure 4 tutorial videos) here: Exposure 4 Video Page

Alien Skin Exposure 4 can be downloaded as a free trial directly from the Alien Skin website here: Free Trial Downloads Page

A combo of a polaroid filter with light leak

Available for $249 for the full plugin, or as an upgrade to existing Exposure, Exp2 and Exp3 users for $99.

Alien Skin Exposure 4 is the best film replication software I’ve used by far.  The attention to, and replication of detail is second to none.  Ignoring the film replication, the filters are a lot of fun to tweak allowing a plethora of looks from any single image file.  The addition of more precise adjustment tools, streamlined workflow and deeper filter/textures catalogs, it’s a different monster than the already stellar Exposure 3 software.  The only perceivable downside is that this plugin is priced accordingly, I’d also like to see an Aperture compatible plugin as well.  It has further separated itself from the comparably priced plugins like the NIK software offerings by providing more filters for not only color films, but includes hundreds of black and white film presets, and offers a much better (more naturally film like) grain generation and aging texture interface than say the Silver and Color Efex Pro plugins AND this works in BOTH Lightroom (LR2 or later) and Photoshop (CS4 or later) with the same license (just as all Alien Skin plugins do) as opposed to having to buy two separate plugins for each host.  There are many new, lower cost challengers out there now that weren’t around (or at least as complete) as there were when Exposure 3 was launched as well though.  Is Exposure 4 worth it?  If you are a picky editor, an avid post processor, plan to print or offer print services where you want a more natural looking grain or are a shooter looking for the best film based filter plugin available, I’d say absolutely.

Hit me up with any questions or comments and I’d be happy to try and help.

Here’s to getting through winter!

Happy Shooting,



16 thoughts on “*Exposure 4, it just keeps getting better.

    • I think that the NIK plugins are good, but really expensive for what they are. For the same cost, essentially, you get a better pure film replication for both black and white (silver efex pro) AND color (NIK doesn’t really offer anything comparable, maybe the film filter in CEP) with Exposure in my opinion. I’ve not used my NIK plugins much since I’ve started using the Alien Skin stuff. I also do find the TiffenDFX and Topaz plugins (Adjust primarily) a more cost effective alternative to Color Efex Pro as well. Because I use most of these in Photoshop, I do all my masking and selective application via layer masks, so the u-point is kinda surplus to me and not quite as precise. A biggie that kind of pisses me off with NIK is that you have to buy plugins for either Aperture/LR OR Photoshop (ridiculously expensive) while with AlienSkin (and most others) it’s a one plugin fits (mostly) all hosts.


      • As a semi-retired advertising and beauty photographer in L.A. I’ve vacillated as to whether to add the NIK series or Exposure 4 module to my MAC platform. My quest is for REAL film looks, particularly B&W Tri-X which I built my studio career on. You make some outstanding points in your commentary and I will now rethink my initial thought of automatically adding NIK upgrades as I have going forth. Alien Skin take note …. you’d be wise to keep and continue to expand on REAL film capabilities in your product offerings! IMO, there is no comparison between digital pixels and REAL film looks that are further augmented by REAL yesteryear darkroom processes.


      • Thank you for the comment. I must admit that I’ve not upgraded to NIK SEP 2, so I’m not sure if they’ve made any strides in grain replication. I do like Silver Efex Pro when I use it (which is rare nowadays), but to me, it is more a pure editor as opposed to a replicator so to speak if that makes sense. Certainly capable of beautiful results and many that I’ve printed and loved but not what I would call a film replicator. That said, once I used Exposure (3 originally) I had a hard time going back to SEP, largely down to the built in replication filters involved for both B&W and Color film stocks. I think that attempting to directly compare true film grain to a digital replication is a difficult thing to do if pure accuracy is desired. For most of us (myself included), if we were to view two A3+ prints, one enlarged from 35mm TriX and one from a 16-20mp digital camera let’s say enabling a 240-300dpi resolution, exposed comparably and run through Exposure with the TriX filter, we’d have a hard time picking out which was which from a normal viewing distance. If viewed through a loupe, I’m sure a trained eye would be able to pick apart pixels vs grain, but for me, I’m really impressed with the film like look achievable with Exposure 3 and even more so with the added control in v4. One beauty and obvious advantage with working on a digital file is that you have an amazing amount of control over not just the grain, but the density, and overall exposure after the fact, assuming again that the original file contains that info to begin with. In my opinion, there will never be a true way to purely replicate vinyl sound from a CD or mp3, and similarly film will always have its own pure qualities and quirks. One thing that I can say though with Exp4, is that it does as good a job as I have ever seen to provide a film like digital file.


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  2. As a very enthiousiastic Exposure 3 user i’ve “made” several filters of my own. I think i’m using about 30 presets at the moment. When I upgrade to E 4, will I still be able to use them ????
    Jeroen, Amsterdam, the Netherlands


    • Hi Jeroen,

      Thanks for the read. One of the biggest turnoffs to me when looking at the NIK Silver Efex v2 update was that presets didn’t automatically translate necessitating a “rebuilding” as the newer version didn’t read the previous version’s preset files. When I installed Exposure 4, all of my (probably 30 or so as well) custom presets were there. I didn’t have to do anything. I’ve not spent the time to really look to see how the newer adjustments in v4 are set, but I assume that anything that is new to v4 that doesn’t exist in v3 is by default toggled off, or neutralized as my previous presets still appear identical to they way they did. By adding some of the new aging and halation features to my existing presets, I’ve already added a dozen or so new presets based off of my originals. I don’t have an official citation from Alien Skin (and it may be covered on their website) but all of my presets did in fact follow me to the new version beautifully.

      Thanks again,


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