Alien Skin’s Exposure 2; Add The Look Of Traditional Film And Special Darkroom Effects

Are you shooting digital now, but sometimes long for the gritty look of pushed Tri-X, or the impressionistic color characteristics of a faded Polaroid? To add the organic look of specific film types to your photos, or transform them with a wide range of processing and darkroom effects, try one of the 300 presets available in the second generation of Alien Skin's Photoshop plug-in, Exposure 2. Furthermore, you can fine-tune each to your taste and save it to your own personal F/X library.

Developed from a scientific analysis of current and discontinued color and black and white print and slide stocks, Exposure 2 offers presets that emulate the warmth, softness, and realistic grain structures of film, ranging from the vivid colors of Fuji Velvia, the natural skin tones of Kodak Portra, to the muted retro hues of a faded Polaroid, and even the ethereal glow of infrared. To give you an idea of the depth of choices, the black and white infrared category alone has 20 different preset options simulating films from Kodak, Konica, and Ilford.

For grain effects, Exposure 2 goes beyond just adding digital noise. Its grain simulation models the size, shape, and color of real-world grain, including the feel of Kodak Tri-X and the large, soft grain of discontinued GAF 500. Grain size can be automatically adjusted to the image size, so grain looks realistically proportional on high- and low-resolution photos. Furthermore, you can alter grain shape via a roughness control.

To combat flat, lifeless black and white conversions, Exposure 2 offers many presets as well as a channel mixer RGB sliders interface to provide subtle control over the color to black and white conversion process. Once you've made the conversion, there are a wealth of color toning, contrast, and grain variations to explore.

Beyond the ability to reproduce the look and feel of film, Exposure 2 offers darkroom effects such as push- and cross-processing, glamour portrait softening and warming. After applying a preset, you can fine-tune color saturation, tone, sharpness, and grain with advanced control panels.

Fast, Nondestructive Workflow
Need to process batches of images? The plug-in is compatible with Photoshop Actions. Furthermore, Exposure 2 enables a nondestructive workflow where you can return to an image months later and change it. How? All settings are deployed in a new Photoshop layer named after the setting used, or the effects can be applied as Photoshop CS3 Smart Filters. Previews are automatically scaled to fit the current window size, and the plug-in is multithreaded to run faster on multiprocessors or multi-core processors. With Exposure 2 you can work in 16 bit, allowing raw images to be manipulated at their highest quality.

All Photos © 2007, Howard Millard, All Rights Reserved

Image Options
To take Exposure 2 for a test drive, I opened one of my water lily photos, #1, in Photoshop CS3. Next, I chose Filter>Alien Skin Exposure 2>Color Film. This brought up the dialog box shown in #2. At the top left of the dialog, I clicked on the arrow to the left of the folder labeled "Cross Processing," which then displayed a list of film choices. Next, I clicked on the folder labeled "Agfa Optima" and, in the large window to the right, the preview quickly showed the cross-processing effect, with funky blue and cyan tones in the water accented with greenish yellows on the lily pad. Once the preview is drawn, you can compare the before and after looks by pressing the space bar, or you can select from eight split screen before and after options in the drop-down Preview Split menu at the top of the preview window.


I tried a few other choices by clicking on their folder icons and checking the previews, but decided that for this shot I preferred the Cross Processed Agfa Optima. To apply the filter to the full image (not just the preview), I clicked the OK button at the top right. On this 8MB file, it took my 1.8MHz dual-processor Power Mac about 10 seconds to apply. A 15MB file took about 30 seconds. The result is #3. Exposure 2 thoughtfully places the filter effect on its own layer in Photoshop, above your original photo in the background layer, #4.



Next, I wanted to try some black and white effects. I opened a copy of the same original and chose Filter>Alien Skin Exposure 2>Black and White Film. From the factory presets at the upper left, I selected Infrared, and within that Fog-Bright. This has higher contrast and less detail than some of the other infrared settings, but the effect should be clearly visible in magazine reproduction, #5. It took only about 6 seconds to render this dramatic and eerie effect.


From my early darkroom days, I have always favored toning some black and white prints in order to achieve subtle color effects as well as for greater archival stability. Although in Exposure 2, toning is found under the black and white category, you must start with a color original (normal RGB) in order to apply monochrome and dual color toning. The 13 preset options encompass sepia, cyan, gold split, selenium, and blue, and bring to mind many hours spent in the darkroom with malodorous fumes. Here, I chose Filter>Alien Skin Exposure 2>Black and White Film, then Color Toning, then Selenium -- warm/cool. After clicking OK, the toning was performed digitally in less than 3 seconds. The selenium digital print, #6, shows a good range of tones, fine detail, and to my eye, a very pleasing color. In the lily pad, tonal separation is good, and delicate shading is visible in the blossom.