Exposure 2, one of Alien Skin Software’s excellent collection of plug-ins for Photoshop, is also one of the many ways I’ve been looking into to effectively “stylize” the look of one’s photographs. Enhancing the dynamic range, color range, and local contrast of digital photographs is a subject that has me nearly totally engrossed these days. You’ve probably noticed that my friend Doug is also entranced by what, for lack of a more generalized “industry-standard” name, I’ll call Image Stylization Tools.
IMHO, the “birthplace” of all these tools was Adobe Photoshop’s own HDR Merge command. Then along came HDR Software’s Photomatix, which suddenly set the world on fire with the extreme control it gives photographers for controlling dynamic range. In fact, if you have the time and the courage to push and pull enough combinations of sliders, you can probably make it do even the types of “special effects” image interpretations to both merged and individual images that Exposure can do.
Personally, though, I have and am grateful for both these tools (as well as a few others that I will cover later). Why? Because they can save me a lot of time and can, much more quickly, give me an overview of options that I can apply before I make a final choice. [Mention here the possibility of LR Virtual Copies for keeping these options organized and quickly presentable. Check out to see how compatible the filter is with LR and Aperture].
Chief among Exposure’s (currently version 2) benefits is the ability to instantly imitate dozens of film stocks. Now, there are already many Lightroom presets that imitate film stocks. Exposure, however, manages to have just about everyone of the traditional favorites. Exposure 2‘s dialog has 5 tabs and the film interpretations are in the tab called Settings. Films are listed by categories: Print, Print w/ Grain Off, Print Low Contrast and Print Low Contrast Grain Off, Slide and Slide Grain Off. All you have to do to interpret your image as one of the films would interpret it is to click it’s name. I’m just going to give you a few examples of what one click can do. First, here’s an image that I processed in Lightroom and then tonemapped the single RAW image by exporting it to Fotomatix from Lightroom.
The following are one-click interpretations of just a few of the “films”. I was really pleased with the character that each of these gave to full-range tonemapping. First, I’ll show you three unadjusted color film interpretations of the image above. You might want to open another tab in your browser so that you can compare these images side-by-side.
This is Kodachrome 64. I’m sure you’ll be pleased that you can still get these nice, bright colors, even though Kodak’s taken your Kodachrome away…
Here’s Fuji Velvia, which was always one of my favorites back in my film days, especially for scenics. Maybe this explains why I so like HDR stylizations.
And, just for the heck of it, Kodak UltraColor’s answer to Velvia:
That’s only three of the color film choices. There are so many other that you’d have a tough time thinking of one they’d missed. Same’s true of the Black and White choices. There are also many more adjustments that one can make using any one of these as a starting point: Toning, Infrared, conversion to B&W (with dramatic interpretational options), push processing, cross processing, softening (nice for portraits and glowing waterfalls), and, by golly…even curves and contrast. I’m going to show you some examples of some of those processes, but this time with a different image so you can get a broader feel for the versatility of this sort of thing.
Here’s the tonemapped original, again made from a single RAW file.
I think it always helps to sell more stock photos if you can also produce a really appealing black and white version of the image. Here’s a black and white interpretation, in a single click, of Kodak Plus-X.
Here’s a partially sun-bleached color print… You can even do all sorts of “classic” multichromes with a single-click of the name of the effect on the list in the dialog.
Of course, the actual combinations are virtually limitless because you can apply these effects atop one another or copy the original image onto several layers and then apply a different effect to each layer and then apply Blend Modes and masking to those layers. Here’s one image that’s been treated exactly that way, just to stimulate your imagination:
Now, impressive as it is to see that you can get so much varied interpretation of your images so quickly, it really wouldn’t be fair for you to think that’s all there is to Exposure 2. Remember those other four tabs? They will allow you to interactively “fine tune” the one-click interpretations, mostly by interactively dragging sliders while you watch an instant preview. Powerful stuff. Reasonable price.
Check out some of Alien Skin’s other plug-ins, too. Next up, Alien Skin Image Doctor 2, which instantly and interactively fixes some of the most common and annoying image repair problems. See you then, whenever that may be.