Alien Skin’s Exposure 3; Is This The Ultimate Variations Plug-In?

At first glance you might think that Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 ($249 at or $99 upgrade from Exposure 1 or 2; a free trial is available on their website as well) is a push-button solution to image manipulation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but most of us enjoy the creative process in defining our own image “looks,” as tortuous a path as that may often seem. Exposure 3, like past manifestations of this plug-in from Alien Skin, uses film attributes as its takeoff point, that is, there are about 500 “presets” for just about any type of film you may have shot or heard about, as well as processing variations that may have altered the color look or grain and contrast of those films. This took considerable research, I am sure, and the array of options is impressive, as is the almost scholarly approach to the task.

Being a plug-in, you access the program from the platform you use for image editing—I used Adobe’s Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 in my tests. Go to the Filter menu and open the program from there. Then you are asked to choose color or black and white. In this set I used a photo of a peacock made with an Olympus E-3 (1). I chose Color and Exposure 3 offered me this workspace (2). Note the various tabs across the top. Those are where you find the many variations the program offers to modify the preset. For this image I chose Technicolor, and the preset was pretty good (3). I then used the Color Balance New Adjustment Layer in Photoshop CS5 to arrive at my final image by adding cyan (4).
All Photos © 2010, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

The funny thing is that many folks who will use this program probably never shot film, or for sure never shot the dizzying array of options offered here, thus the descriptions may not be that useful, though they are better than some of the allusions used by other programs. For example, how would you think an Agfa APX 25, from a company out of the film business for numerous years, should look? I have shot or tested many of the films offered as processing models here over many years, and I can attest to the accuracy of some of those visual approximations; for others, I trust in the Alien Skin folks for accuracy, or at the least give them poetic license.

When you use Exposure 3 out of Lightroom you start with this option box, which allows you to edit copies of the original that has already received Lightroom adjustments or not, or to edit the original file (5). Here’s the image directly exported from my Lightroom workspace brought right into the Color tab adjustment area of Exposure 3 (6). When done, the changed image comes back into Lightroom as a copy, ready for any other adjustments you might want to make (7).