As a nature photographer, switching to digital was a wonderful experience for me. Shooting digital meant I could use much higher ISOs than I would dare try with film and still get vibrant colors and low noise. On the down side, I had to become more proficient in tweaking tone curves and color settings to get a look I liked. And good black-and-white images were suddenly difficult because the lack of film grain left my images looking unrealistic.
Exposure, a new Photoshop plug-in from Alien Skin Software, attempts to re-create popular film emulsions in both color and black-and-white.
It does a lot of things that could be done separately in Photoshop CS2, like adjust tone curves, sharpness, and color saturation. But by using Exposure, I can make these changes in a single step, applying them as a layer, and saving the presets. Once I have settings I like, itís easy to apply them to other images.
Iíve do quite a bit of post-processing in my RAW conversion software, so I usually donít boost saturation or contrast in Photoshop. When a RAW workflow is impractical, however, I shoot JPEG and set my camera to use a low-contrast tone curve to preserve detail in the fur and feathers of animals.
In these instances, Exposureís Velvia 100 preset does a very good job of adding ďpunchĒ to my images. I generally reduce the layer opacity to 40-50 percent, depending on the image.
I also like that this filter can be applied in a separate layer. I recently experimented with Photoshop CS2ís ďHDR MergeĒ function for some landscape shots. Because Iím still a novice at this technique, the initial HDR file often looks a little flat. Exposureís Velvia 100 filter produces a great result.
Experimenting with some of the other settings in the Color Film filter set, I chose settings that were a little less intense than the presets. The ď1970s EktachromeĒ setting is a dead-ringer for the real thing. Trouble is, I didnít like that look then and I donít plan on using it now. If I were a graphics professional who wanted to re-create a vintage look, it would be an excellent tool. Exposure really shines when converting RGB images to B&W. I hadnít used B&W film for a while, but when I clicked the Tri-X 400 emulator setting, I found myself having flashbacks to the darkroom! The B&W filter settings are incredibly realistic and offer tremendous control.
Exposureís channel mixer tool automatically adjusts the red, green, and blue channels to add up to 100 percent, eliminating the headache of doing this manually in Photoshop CS2. When I decide that an image will do well in black-and-white, Iím never sure which channel will need adjusting to get the look I want. The channel mixer lets me play around as much as I want with minimal fuss.
The real strength of Exposure lies in its realistic reproduction of film grain. It lets you make the grain larger than a single pixel and control how much grain is in the shadow, highlight, and mid-tone regions of your image.
The realism of the film-grain effect in Exposure was truly outstanding. Suddenly, my B&W images gained that natural feel they were missing before. Grain can be useful for other reasons, too. When making very large prints, a little grain actually increases the apparent sharpness of the image. I plan to use the grain feature in Exposure in my larger prints.
Alien Skin Exposure offers plenty of presets that lower the learning curve for any user, yet it has a rich functionality that allows experienced users to fine-tune a particular look or try novel settings. The grain effects alone are worth the $199 price tag. If you want to make very large prints or achieve a natural B&W film look, Exposure is worth looking into.