Review: Alien Skin Exposure 4

Alien Skin’s Photoshop plug-in Exposure 4 builds further on the power of its predecessor, with a better interface, and even more settings. Exposure 4 has a completely redesigned user interface and new controls. Black & White and Color Film are now combined into one filter. The new text search lets you instantly explore hundreds of presets.

Exposure 4 has a new interface with a preview that updates in real-time as you hover over presets with your mouse. At right are the parameters you can set either from scratch or to change a preset’s options.

The preview area does double duty as a Navigator when you zoom in and the image becomes too big to fit the Alien Skin window. The Settings (presets) are neatly organized in two tabs: Factory and User. All presets are visible by default, but you can select a radio button to only show Color or B&W settings.

The presets list has become even more complete than the one available in Exposure 3. There are now Cinema film settings to choose from too, as well as Infrared and Lo-Fi (the latter only for colour settings).

Black and White settings.

The real treat, however, comes from the parameters that you can set. Color, Tone, Focus, Grain, IR, and Age hide a dazzling array of sliders and… presets. Contrary to other tools that offer the same type of image manipulation, Exposure 4 allows you to start giving your image a look-and-feel bypassing the Factory presets altogether. Instead, you can immediately start tampering with one or more of the six categories that I just listed.

But in other apps you would need to dive in head first, while Exposure 4 gives you a path that is less daunting: the parameter presets. Take Color Saturation, for example. You can start by selecting “Boost Midtones” instead of directly trying to boost independent colours — which you can, using the sliders directly beneath the Preset drop-down menu. If you find the Boost Midtones add too much red, you can decrease the Red slider — and you can save your fine-tuned Color Saturation to a new preset name that will appear in the drop-down menu.

This allows for much creative freedom without costing valuable time experimenting. The Color tab also has Black and White settings. When you select the “Black White” radio button, the Color Saturation settings change to Color Sensitivity settings. Finally, the Color category also offers you the ability to decrease the overall intensity of your settings using one slider.

In the Tone category, the parameter presets for Split Toning contain the largest range of presets I have ever seen in a product like Exposure 4. More importantly, the split toning can be set using a familiar colour gradient interface — it’s the same as the one Adobe uses in Photoshop and Illustrator, but the number of colours is limited to two.

Focus lets you set sharpness, blurriness and lens warp. It gives good control over desired sharpness, but if you want to really control sharpness and blur across the entire image, I’d suggest to buy Alien Skin’s Bokeh (review) too. That filter is the nec plus ultra for selective sharpening/blurring of photos.

Grain can be applied to selective areas of the photo, i.e. separately for shadow, midtone, and highlight areas. With one click you can disable grain from all settings!

Light Leak.

As with other parameters, Infrared has a multitude of presets, and you can apply them (and the customised settings) to colour as well as B&W images, but I found this filter of less use for colour images than the others. However, three of the presets apply to glow — as in glamour glow and similar — and for this particular use, selecting one of the presets and taking it from there is very effective. The alternative was to select a Glamour Shot Factory setting — in this case, there wasn’t much difference between the Factory Setting (which usually has several filters applied) and the IR parameter preset.

Finally, the Age category has two parameters: Vignette and Texture. Vignette is what you’ll find in other products as well. Texture is different. It hides a whole set of borders, papers, dust and scratches settings, and my personal favorite: light leaks. Those light leaks are great to create a specific atmosphere (although strictly speaking they are simulations of a flaw). To me, Light leaks alone is worth the upgrade to version 4, but of course Exposure 4’s other new features and improvements are probably going to matter more to most people.

Let me conclude then that Exposure 4 is not just a minor upgrade; the new features in there are worth the money. The improvements will make your life easier and enable a smoother workflow. Exposure 4 costs approx. €200.00. Owners of any version of Exposure may upgrade for $99 USD. Free upgrades were automatically sent to everyone who purchased Exposure 3 directly from Alien Skin Software in November 2011 or later.

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