Alien Skin Launches Exposure X2 Adobe Photoshop Plugin and Application Bundle
Software developers come and go but there are a few creating applications for photographers and designers that have stood the test of time to the point where their disappearance at this point seems unthinkable. I'm speaking here of tiny outfits like Harald Heim's The Plugin Site or LemkeSoft, responsible for the essential Mac utility GraphicConverter, both essentially one-man shops. Only slightly larger is Alien Skin Software, which authored one of the most popular Photoshop plugins of the 1990s, Eye Candy.
Eye Candy is still available, although it's been stuck at version 7 since 2013. But Alien Skin has kept busy over the years, introducing a small number of new cross-platform plugins, which more recently can also run as standalone applications. Now the firm has released the Exposure X2 Bundle, comprised of its three products geared to photographers: Exposure X2, Snap Art and Blow Up.
Craving the vivid colors of Velvia, the rich blacks of Kodachrome (including every variation from 1936), the sensitivity of Ektachrome or the glow of black and white infrared film? In 2005 Exposure began as a "film simulator" that could create effects derived from the analysis of film stocks, with presets emulating the warmth, softness and realistic grain of these and other color and black-and-white film stocks. Presets could be adjusted as desired and applied to a batch of images using Photoshop Actions. Exposure was said to be able to mimic the grain of films such as Ilford 3200 Delta, as well as the discontinued Ektachrome EES and GAF 500. Additional capabilities included such studio and darkroom effects such as cross processing, push processing and glamour portrait softening, all within a non-destructive workflow.
Over the years Exposure has evolved by going beyond film simulation to add support for a wide range of techniques from analog photography and can now be thought of as a general creativity tool. Version X, released in December 2015, added the ability to rapidly browse, organize and batch edit photos, which coupled with the freedom to not rely on catalog files, and a new customizable user interface, moves Exposure in the direction of a creative photo editor and organizer, inspired by the history of analog photography. Image editing functionality was also extended via the addition of a white balance eyedropper, temperature and tint controls, and a detail panel for noise reduction and sharpening.
The recently released Exposure X2 moves further in the direction of providing a single solution for photographers who wish to quickly organize their photos, perform common image editing and cleanup operations, and transform them via a wide range of editable effects — to the point where for some a Creative Cloud Photography plan may no longer be necessary. For example, new is the ability to perform popular spot healing and cloning operations for fixing image imperfections. Customizable faded presets are said to give a hazy, dreamy effect to photos thanks to lifted blacks, tone curve variation, split toning and color casts. A History Panel allows users to track creative edits, simplifying the process of revisiting changes made during a lengthy session. And metadata search makes it possible to search and sort a library using such criteria as ISO, camera or lens type, shutter speed and f-stop. Exposure X2 is the most significant member of the bundle.
Snap Art 4, released in 2013, lets users choose from hundreds of styles such as oil paint, watercolor, crayon and pencil sketch. The plugin/application supports a non-destructive workflow, with effects in Photoshop rendered on a new layer, leaving the original image untouched. Snap Art can be run as a Smart Filter for easy tweaking of the effect after it is created. It employs refined stroke placement to keep edges sharp and reproduce natural texture, helping to keep the subject natural and recognizable. Snap Art also has a detail mask that allows users to quickly mark exactly where they want more detail, which is handy for leaving backgrounds abstract while faces remain detailed and natural. Multiple crayon presets make it possible to create a messy, colorful look.
The most recent version of Blow Up seems to go back to 2011, which is quite a stretch. But then the task it performs really doesn't change much. Blow Up has been designed to solve a perennial problem facing digital photographers and graphic designers — how to dramatically increase the size of an image while maintaining its quality. Such a situation might arise when using a highly-cropped portion of a stock photo, that then has to be enlarged for use in a document that will be offset printed. Or perhaps a Photoshop composition was created at a particular size and the client now requires a vastly-enlarged version for use in a trade show environment? Even more common is a digital photo that simply has to be output directly at a much larger size.
Imaging applications provide tools for such tasks, such as Photoshop's use of bicubic interpolation, but these typically hit the wall when expanding image size dramatically. There are also a range of third-party utilities and plugins available employing a variety of approaches, such as onOne Software's Perfect Resize and AKVIS Magnifier. Alien Skin claims Blow Up improves on such products, in part by scaling images with no resulting stairstep, halo or fringe artifacts.
The Wrap Up
The idea is that with the bundle photographers can launch Snap Art and Blow Up directly from within Exposure X2, eliminating the need to launch either app from Photoshop or Lightroom. The Exposure X2 Bundle is said to work with cloud storage tools, allowing users to edit photos from any location and to collaborate with other photographers on image edits. The Exposure X2 Bundle for Mac and Windows can be purchased for $199. The bundle runs as a standalone program and with Photoshop CS6 or newer and Lightroom 6 or newer. It's also possible to purchase just Exposure X2 for $149. More information and a free trial is available on the Alien Skin Software site.