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Review: Alien Skin Exposure 3

By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

The name Exposure doesn’t seem to adequately describe all the capabilities of Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 Photoshop plug-in. When I think of exposure, what comes to my mind is whether an image is properly exposed and if any adjustment, such as color saturation, brightness and contrast is needed. Alien Skin Exposure3, however, is all that and much more!

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Figure 1

Looking at the upper left of Figure 1 (click for large view) you can see that there are six tabs for the Color Films interface. In Figure 2 you can see that the separate Black and White interface has seven tabs. The extra tab in the B&W interface is for infrared adjustments. Looking again at Figure 1, you can see that the user interface is laid out in a logical manner with a minimalist approach. Don’t let the simplicity of the interface fool you; Exposure 3 has many powerful adjustments available to the user.

I appreciate the option to divide the viewing screen so that one portion of the screen shows the original while the other shows the enhancement applied. This allows me to see exactly what results my adjustments will yield. I also enjoyed how easy it is to engage the various settings. Selecting one of the + symbols on the list expands the tree, revealing the many film effect options.

I was amazed at the quantity of factory settings. On the Alien Skin website they claim that this software has more than 500 analog techniques! That combined with the ability to make custom adjustments offers the user a tremendous amount of variety. And being in business to make a profit and not just take pretty pictures, you know that the more variety you can offer your client, the more potential sales you have!

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Figure 3

For the image of Laura in Figures 1 and 3, I chose the Polaroid-600-blow-highlights option. You can see from the split window exactly how the software is going to render the image. I liked the way the factory settings enhanced the image, so I didn’t bother with further tweaking, though I could have toggled through the other tabs and made further adjustments to the image. If I had done that, the next logical step would have been to save those custom settings for future use. To save the custom settings, you simply click on the Save button on the lower left. This will enable you to name your setting and give it a description for future reference.

Custom settings can also be exported. It’s always a good idea to save important information on other storage devices in the event of a computer malfunction. Just for fun, I took the original image of Laura and picked a random film, next I went from tab to tab quickly making random settings just to see how it would end up (Figure 4). I really liked the image! It has a lot of warm orange to it but I think the coolness of the blue in the jean jacket helps to balance the overall look. Of course, I saved these under User Settings so that I can duplicate the effect in the future.

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Figure 4

I really enjoyed clicking through the extensive Film options Exposure 3 has to offer. Having worked with black-and-white film in the darkroom as an amateur photographer, I can appreciate how diligent Alien Skin has been in emulating these classic films. I can select each for its classic look and then make adjustments to fit my own taste. How cool is that?

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Figure 5 

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Figure 6

I especially enjoyed working with the infrared feature on the B&W Film interface. As you can see from Figure 5, there are many factory settings to emulate classic IR films. However, I couldn’t help but make a few custom adjustments to my own user settings option. Using the Age tab, I added a small amount of vignette to the image as seen in Figure 6, and with the color tab I added a little brown to warm the image some. You can see from the split window of figure 5 how well the software renders an infrared look with foliage. Of course it's not true infrared capture, but in the interest of adding variety to a bride’s wedding album, you could quickly process some of your color images through Exposure 3 using either Photoshop actions or Lightroom. All the images in this article were processed individually through the Photoshop Filters drop-down menu. You can also include Exposure 3 in Photoshop actions to process multiple images quickly. Exposure 3 can be applied to a single image within Lightroom or multiple images can be processed via a batch mode.

Additionally, both filters (Color & B&W) work with 8 or 16 bits/channel images and Exposure 3 will run under 64-bit versions of Photoshop on both Windows (Photoshop CS4 and later) and Macintosh platforms (Photoshop CS5 and later).

Honestly, this is one situation where I shouldn’t have judged a plug-in by it’s name! Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 impressed me with the ease of use, the quick learning curve, versatility and the value-for-price. Ultimately it’s a piece of software that’s easy to use and I can see it contributing to the bottom line of my business.

Purchase $249, Upgrade $99