You can do anything with Photoshop? Not quite. Hugh John checks out 'Exposure' 

ExposureExposure: infinitely configurable set of modifiersDoes any company produce Photoshop filters as well as Alien Skin Software? The US company has produced Photoshop plug-ins for almost 20 years and now boasts a range of products that includes enlargement (Blow Up), retouching (Image Doctor), focusing (Bokeh), painterly effects (Snap Art) and photographic effects (Exposure).

Even in this exalted company, however, Exposure still commands attention. It’s both a powerful, easily applied filter and an excellent learning tool for any student wishing to discover and learn more about analogue photographic effects. You know, that old-school stuff’ where enthusiasts locked themselves in a dark room with a red light and paddled about in trays of whiffy chemicals for hours on end.

It’s a happy coincidence that an application created, in the first instance for graphics professionals, is also, in the words of the Alien Skin production team, “an analogue film simulation plug-in that could be of great benefit in teaching digital photographers about analogue photography and photographers, historic film and much more".

More than 500 effects – faster and easier

Now in Version 4, Exposure has reached new levels of creative potential. The interface has been radically revamped and the program makes full use of 64-bit software technology, increasingly more common, all of which adds up to faster and easier application of effects. In fact, there are more than 500 effects according to Alien Skin, ranging from simple colour and tone adjustments to user-designated settings that incorporate grain, opacity, ageing and vignetting. (New in this version, incidentally is Textures, found under the Age tab, which “overlays real textures of artefacts from actual photography.” If you want to introduce light leakage, paper texture, wet plate effect or dust and scratches at the click of a mouse, this is the place to go.)

The simplest way of creating an effect would be to select one of the presets stored under the ‘Factory’ tab. These are subdivided into Color and Black and White and then further arranged in various subsets. Color, for example, yields Cinema, Color Fading, Polaroid, Print, Slide, Vintage and so on. Dig deeper and you’ll find classic film stock (Fuji, Kodak, Agfa) and a heap of photographic effects that at one time seemed as if they might be lost to the modern digital photographer – Diffuse Glow, Cross Processing, Blur and Dust.

The Black and White tab harbours all sorts of weird, wonderful and arcane joys. This is where you’ll find, among others, Calotype-Sepia, Cyanotype, Daguerrotype-Damaged, Wet Plate-Tab Frame, Black and White Infrared, Copper Light Tone.. .the list seems endless. Further adjustments and modifications of the presets are made on the right hand side of the interface where seven tabs (Color, Tone, Focus, Grain, Infrared and Age) are gathered in one large pane. Below the tabs are a set of sliders that are used to adjust parameters such as Size, Distortion and Opacity.  Altogether, they represent an infinitely configurable set of modifiers that students can play with until the underlying principles of image manipulation begin to emerge.

Tuition resources rival those of Adobe

Further tuition can be found on the Alien Skin website, a resource that rivals Adobe for online tools and tutorials. On the portal for Exposure, for instance, there are more than 50 blogs and videos from professional photographers and Alien Skin staff that discuss infrared effects, user interface, textures overlay and black-and-white image manipulation. It’s a rich source of knowledge and hugely stimulating.

It’s a bold claim, but Exposure could well be the single most useful Photoshop filter, encompassing, as it does, a huge selection of photo-editing tools which can be deployed in any number of ways. It’s not cheap though and it may be that, in these straitened times, many photography departments may baulk at shelling out around £150 for a single plug-in. There is always the option of the free, fully functional 30-day trial but don’t blame me if you decide to pay out in full at the end of the month. It’s that good.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose      5
Ease of use                  5
?Features                     5
Quality                          5
Value for money           4

Exposure 4
Photo-effects plug-in for Adobe Photoshop software, £156.99 (£63 discounted upgrade available for existing customers)
Alien Skin  
Alien Skin Tutorials

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