Digital images are sharper, smoother and more accurate than film ever was, but it turns out that’s not always what we want. Film was unpredictable but it also lent pictures particular qualities that became part of the visual language of photography.
The faded colours of a 1970s lab print have become a powerful evocation of times gone by, and a gritty, grainy monochrome print seems to sum up desolation and decay far more effectively than a hyper-accurate digital capture.
That’s what Alien Skin Exposure 4 aims to recreate. It takes a standard digital image then processes it to replicate the look of any number of old-fashioned films and darkroom techniques, even adding randomly-seeded dust and scratches in its quest for a truly authentic film ‘look’.
You can choose from a wide range of presets, categorised into black and white or colour, and then subdivided into folders for different groups of effects, such as infra-red or Polaroid films. Once you’ve chosen a preset, you can adjust individual parameters using tools arranged in a tabbed panel on the right of the screen.
Version 4 brings faster processing, a more efficient interface and a wide range of ‘texture’ effects – borders, simulated light leaks and dust and scratches – to create more realistic old film effects, though there doesn’t seem any way to combine them, which is odd.
Alien Skin has gone to great efforts to recreate traditional film effects, though, of course, the technical accuracy will depend on your camera settings and whether you’ve done any editing work on the image already.
Although the sheer number of presets is impressive, many are simply subtle variations and it’s easy to get lost in a sea of alternatives.
And while it does produce very attractive, authentic-looking images, it’s starting to look a little limited compared to rival software.
Nik Color Efex Pro 4, covers very similar territory but can ‘stack’ effects and supports localised image-editing, while Snapseed delivers less technically correct but more dramatic old film looks at a fraction of the price.
Alien Skin Exposure 4 can work with Photoshop’s Smart Objects, though, which offers another way of combining effects, and it also works with Lightroom – and without needing Photoshop as a host – processing both single images as well as whole batches.
PC & Mac
Windows Vista or later, Mac OS X 10.6 or later, Intel Core 2 processor or compatible, Photoshop CS4 or later, Elements 9 or later, Lightroom 2 or later.
We like… The authentic film effects and the simple user-friendly interface
We’d like… Local adjustments, the ability to combine Age effects and fewer presets
Exposure 4 is very good at film effects, and the new interface is a step forward, but there’s still room for improvement.
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