Hi all! Welcome to a new, recurring feature on the blog here. I’m partnering with Alien Skin software to work through the processing of images using their Exposure software. Alien Skin Exposure is one of the most complete software processing solutions that I use, and I just love it. With each new release, the functionality and depth become greater and more streamlined. Exposure X is in its final beta, and should be ready to go very soon. You can download a free trial of Exposure HERE if you’d like, and follow along with one of your own images as we explore what Exposure has to offer, together. (if you’re looking for a discount code, you can get 10% off any Alien Skin software using the code “tysonrobichaud” so have at it).
Using images submitted by readers, I will retouch, process and in general, just have fun playing around with them as I might one of my own images, sharing my process step by step along the way. I’ll be using Exposure X today (which may look a little different compared to the screenshots below, when finalized) to process a submitted image from my friend, Billyburg (see more from him on flickr here).
Without further ado…
Each new exposure release adds cool features, while maintaining consistency in the processing power it provides. Acting as both a plugin and standalone, Exposure can be used on its own (as a RAW converter even!) or in concert with Photoshop or Lightroom. I’ll be using it through Photoshop CS6 today, as I do so often which enables me to blend, mask and control different effects and filters via layers.
Here’s Billyburg’s untouched image from the RAW file out of a Lumix GX7, using the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens. A wonderful, candid shot of this lovely lady, deeply entrenched in the Mirror’s musings, with a look of befuddlement as she ingests the day’s gossip. Light streams in from the windows, camera right as she sharply pops from the gradually defocused scene with time, quite literally, appearing over her shoulder and behind her. A natural vignetting, frames her from camera left, counter balanced by the light to the right. To start, I’ve slightly cropped the image to use the door to close the framing in, and position her in the frame.
After having a good look at the image, I know that I want to recover some of the highlights in her skin while further accentuating the naturally captured contrast that the light in the scene provides in the final image. That said, I’m going to start by flattening the overall tonality. Why? Well, you’ll see.
1 – Okay, opening the image in Exposure, I’m using a flat, Fuji 160 film filter which I’ve tweaked to decrease highlights, bring up shadows and generally flatten the image, so to speak. I have this saved as its own filter for this reason as I often do before really digging in. I also appreciate doing this within Exposure as opposed to solely adjusting exposure parameters in Aperture or Lightroom, because I also enjoy being able to apply some of the more nuanced effects like tonal shifting in the shadows and highlights that many of the film presets provide. This filter will help me achieve a more balanced skin tone, primarily. Regardless of where we go from here, this filter has helped bring back some of the highlights, and bring up the shadows with her skin as my focus.
2 – To add a little pop, I’ve adjusted the Sharpen slider to around 35. I’ve also turned OFF the grain, so as not to sharpen any extra, added grain in the image, yet. I save the image, which brings me back into PS with this new filter as its own layer.
3 – I could have (and should have) adjusted the opacity of the filter in Exposure, but looking at it after the fact, I wanted to drop the opacity down to around 70%, and then I masked, using the linear gradient tool at around 25%, on either side as well as using a large, soft brush at 15% opacity, to mask back in some of the original to maintain the contrast and drama, essentially focusing the effect of the Fuji layer on our heroine here. See below:
4 – Using SHIFT + ALT/OPT + COMMAND +E, I merge onto a singular layer above our background and Exposure layer. I then re-open this new layer in Exposure, once again.
With this adjustment, I want to address the guy outside the window, along the right hand side of the frame, and start to re-build the exposure difference from the right to the left within the original image.
Using an adjusted Polaroid-669, blown highlights filter, I then go down to the Color panel on the right hand side, in Exposure, and click on the color (yellowish by default on this particular filter). I then use the eyedropper to select a ~midtone from the image along the opposite side, near the grey surrounding the windows which gives me this…
…which helps keep the tonal continuity throughout the image.
The blown highlights help to overexpose the guy outside a little bit, and then, when back in Photoshop, I mask the layer out using the linear gradient tool, gradually going over it a few times with a 25% opacity gradient.
5 – Again, using SHIFT + ALT/OPT + COMMAND +E, I merge everything up to this point, onto its own layer and again, open it up in Exposure one last time.
Using a Kodachrome (brown) filter from the Vintage Film preset group, I then add the final contrast and grain that I’m looking for in the image. From here I’ll adjust and tweak any of the exposure sliders, film grain, sharpness, et al to get it where I want it.
Here’s how we end up looking in Photoshop:
And, finally, the before and after:
A subtle, but noticeable change to produce a slightly vintage, almost cinematic look compared to the original. I’ve tried to further separate our subject through the disparity in light and dark sides of the frame using tone and contrast to pull her from the background while further exaggerating the differences between shadow and highlight. Using Exposure has allowed to selectively alter our subject (skin and contrast), our exposure difference within the frame moving right to left from shadow to highlight, further accentuating that disparity to add drama, and finally an overall shift in the tonality and general look of the image.
Thank you to Billyburg for submitting this lovely image and allowing me to cut my teeth on this new format. Please stop by and visit him on flickr HERE.
This article was originally published on the Alien Skin blog, and you can see that HERE.
You can see what Alien Skin has to offer on their website HERE. Any and all their software can be downloaded for a free, full featured, non watermarked trial. If you do choose to buy, use the code “tysonrobichaud” to get 10% off anything on Alien Skin’s website.
Thanks for the read, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Would you like to be featured in my next retouch? Contact me HERE, I’d love to chat. Also, find me on the socials, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram. If you would like to receive email notifications as I post new articles, please feel free to add your email address at the top right of the page here as well.