Products and Equipment
About a month ago, Docuvitae was invited to test Alien Skin Software’s new Exposure 3 plugin for Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. The newly-updated, revolutionary software will finally be available this week through Alien Skin or download a trial version here. Updates to the software include the ability to use Exposure directly through Adobe Lightroom, many added film and effects presets, greater ability to custom-refine any present, and greater speed and preview capabilities. This is a bit of a technical mouthful for our non-photographer readers. In a nutshell, this software update is SUPER cool and we were thrilled to offer our professional opinions to the manufacturer.
Exposure, released in 2006, transforms bland, digital images into rich photographs that mimic film negatives. It can mimic film types ranging from Kodak to Ilford to Fuji. It even offers long outdated film types like vintage Kodachrome slide film and vintage Polaroid film. For photographers like us who love the look of film but also shoot digitally, Exposure is an invaluable tool to give that extra “umph” to otherwise relatively lackluster digital images. It is in no way a replacement for film, however, as the process of shooting film itself tends to result in more considerate photos. And, film camera technology and mechanics are often far more resilient and reliable than digital cameras. My personal opinion is that film can capture the spirit of a person or place in a way no digital image can. Go ahead and challenge me on that, if you want; but I’d like to see some examples!
In testing the various beta versions of Exposure 3, and now using the final product, I have been pleasantly surprised with the new software. It’s ability to transform flat, digital images into dynamic, sumptuous photographs is even more powerful than before and, simply-put, pretty darn amazing (see below for some examples). The interface is easier to use, and without getting over-technical, one can get really nitty-gritty and personal about customizing the presets. Want to create an image with 2.4 size grain, reds desaturated -10 but an overall warming of 25%, a soft vignette with size 67 lumps, and blurred as if it was shot through a Diana lens?– go for it. The new vignetting options result in images very similar to those from vintage Holga film cameras and look far more natural than what Photoshop or Lightroom can create. Next time you see a “Holga” photo, you may have to question whether it’s just a digital image with an Exposure vignette. There are also new Cinema effects, Vintage and Low-Fi presets.
Just like any new-generation technology (ahem, the iphone), there is always room for improvement. One of the main features we were excited about was the ability to use Exposure 3 within Adobe Lightroom. In this new version of Exposure, this has proved to be an ‘almost’ convenience. Yes, Exposure 3 can be used without ever leaving Adobe Lightroom. Yes, a particular Exposure setting can be applied in a batch action over thousands of images with a few clicks of the mouse. Unfortunately, these new functions are not as fluid as I had hoped. In order to apply an Exposure setting to a RAW Mark II digital image, Lightroom must first make a duplicate copy of it, adding to our already-pretty-massive image database and thus increasing the need for more storage space. The batch action, especially with this file duplication, is S-L-O-W and thus needs to be run overnight. Before the plug-in, Photoshop could do nearly the same batch action overnight, so this really doesn’t prove to be a time saver the way Adobe Lightroom is on most other levels.
For our super-techie readers, one of my biggest criticisms is that Exposure settings must be immediately embedded in the file instead of being added to the metadata. This inhibits Adobe Lightroom from being able to “sync” Exposure settings to hundreds of other images (one of Adobe Lightroom’s major attractions), and therefore prevents the user from easily switching from one Exposure preset to another later on down the road. Having the ability to easily revert back to the original settings if necessary is a nice feature of Adobe Lightroom, so this is a bit of a let down. Luckily, the plug-in’s new interface makes testing different settings very quick and easy with fast and accurate previews so, if you test your options and have a specific vision from the get-go, this workflow hiccup won’t be too much of a problem. If nothing else, one can always make multiple versions of the same image file, but be sure to purchase extra digital storage space.
Despite some of the logistical frustrations, Exposure 3’s incredibly-improved ability to revamp digital images make this update a worthwhile investment for image makers who love film, but want to save on cost by shooting digitally.
Note: it doesn’t seem like Adobe will be making any changes within Lightroom to better accommodate the plug-in, unfortunately, but I can’t be sure.
And now for a little fun trivia about Alien Skin software:
Why the name Alien Skin?
The name of the company came about when creators George Browning and Jeff Butterworth’s developed a code for some artificial texturing (see samples below), which created results that resembled alien skin. Visit Alien Skin’s site here for more examples, where you can also easily download them and make a cool (or disgusting, depending on how you feel about it) computer desktop background. Check out the last image for my new background!
How do you feel about the new Exposure 3 plug-in for Adobe Lightroom? Anyone have any personal experiences or advice to share? Thinking about changing your desktop wallpaper?
Download the trial version of the software here– we highly recommend it.
All sample photos shown below taken by Laura Kleinhenz on assignment for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in China, 2009.