Alien Skin have returned with an Exposure program that has had a complete overhaul. Now capable of working as a standalone program as well as a Phototshop and Lightroom plug in, Exposure X features image organisation, raw processing and new multi-tasking features as well as simple improvements such as shortcut keys, stackable effects and faster start up time. Exposure X promises a lot and in this review we'll see if it can deliver. Alien Skin Exposure X costs $149 (approx £101) or $99 (approx $67) if you're upgrading from a previous version including Bokeh 1 and 2.
Ease of Use
Traditionally Alien Skin have named their Exposure program sequentially, so it's interesting to note that they've done away with tradition and replaced it with an X. One would assume that means that this is the tenth version, but it has come directly after version 7. We surmise that the rebranding of the version is down to the overhaul that Exposure has had for this installment.
The biggest new feature is that Alien Skin Exposure X now has standalone capability, whereas previous versions were only Photoshop and Lightroom plug ins. Fear not, though, should you still prefer to use Exposure as a plug in then you can and it's still located in the same place under the Filters tab on Photoshop CC and with Lightroom you need to go to Photo>Edit In and select Exposure X.
Creating a standalone work space for Alien Skin Exposure X opens up a whole new world of opportunity for photographers who love a taste of the past. The primary function of Exposure is to emulate previous film types and vintage photographic processes. For the photographer who uses the function a lot, a dedicated platform to work in is a blessing and should make working on pictures much easier. There are various aspects that Alien Skin have introduced to make it as painless as possible. One main feature that Exposure differs from similar programs is that there's no need to import pictures before working on them. Importing can be stressful and confusing for amateur photographers who have little time to catalogue every single picture, lack the technical know how or simply just want to store the pictures they like.
Exposure X has been given the ability to stack effects – kind of like how layers works – which is great news. In previous versions if you wanted to create an image with multiple effects you had to add an effect, save it as a new image and then open it up again, repeating that for each effect you wanted to add. The actual process isn't completely straightforward though and while we will try to explain it here, there's a great tutorial video on the Alien Skin website that demonstrates how to do it.
After the picture has been opened and you've selected a preset, or added an effect, click on the brush icon in the top right under the thumbnail preview. A small box will drop open and here you can delete areas you wish to erase to show the next effect you're going to add. It's similar to a selective colour method. Before erasing, make sure you click on the little white dot in the bottom left corner or no changes will take effect. Once you've erased what you want to erase, make sure you click on New in the drop down box to create a new layer to add the next effect. Repeat the process but erase the layer where you want the previous layer to show. For example, if the image is a landscape and the sky is different to the land, you would apply an effect for the sky, erase the effect on the land, apply a new filter for the land then erase the sky to show the previous layer through. While a welcome addition, the process seems unnecessarily long winded and a lot of the time you're working blind. There's nothing wrong with simply showing the layers in a window so we can see where we are and not forget some of the work flow, such as forgetting to press New, like we did a number of times.
There are three new lens presets to explore as well as the old film simulations. As well as Pinhole, there's also Petzval and Freelensing. If you're unfamiliar with the latter, it's a way of creating tilt/shift effects by detaching the lens from the camera and holding the lens up to the body mount. You then tilt the lens around like it's on a hinge to get a fine line of focus. You also get blur, light leaks and other adorable vintage effects. It's not an easy technique to master so to have a replication of it is much more sedate way of getting the same results. Petzval is a Victorian era lens that has recently been re-released by Lomography after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Using any of the Bokeh filters can be fine tuned on the right side of the window by clicking on the Bokeh drop down and adjusting the focus region. Indeed, all of the presets can be altered in some way and it's the easy to use UI that makes Exposure pleasurable to use. With the Explorer and presets on the left, you can quickly get started on a picture while the right side is reserved for more indepth editing. There are 24 different preset options which can be shown all together or split into colour, b&w, favourite and User defined. They range in variation from subtle changes on some Polaroid films to complete transformations with Daguerrotype films. Once you've edited your picture to your satisfaction, you can Export it via the File button at the top of the window. Before exporting you can select the save folder, a suffix to determine a new image if saving to the same folder, change the file type, include or remove metadata and even adjust the size.