VERDICT: Alien Skin Exposure X5 is one of the best free software created for color correction and stylizing images to mimic color or black & white film photography. Additionally, it is also a very powerful Photoshop plug-in.
Unlike the majority of Ps plug-ins, Alien Skin Exposure has one important peculiarity: it can be used equally effectively by a beginner user, who doesn’t go beyond the default settings, and by a professional photographer, who will manually adjust all the settings.
Alien Skin Exposure has more than 500 different templates that can be easily overlayed on a photograph to apply the effect of “dirt”, matte emulsion, flare, scratches or dust to the photo or make it look like an old picture.
Moreover, some effects can be applied to certain parts of an image (for example, shadows or highlighted areas) and not to the picture as a whole.
Besides the film imitation, this plug-in allows you to create some other classic photo effects, such as cross-processing, soft focus, etc.
In general, these effects are very precise settings of contrast, levels, saturation, and others, which have been saved. You can try and do it yourself in Photoshop, but why do you need to make any effort if someone has already done a good job with that?
When you first launch Alien Skin Exposure, you can’t help noticing that it is very similar to Lightroom, but having taken a closer look, the differences will be obvious. First of all, Lightroom is known for its file managing features, which are absent in Alien Skin.
All the similarities come down to the dark gray color of the interface and triangular arrows that are used for managing the panels. Speaking of which, Alien Skin has two panels on each side. The left one is for the source file and the right one for all the adjustments and metadata.
After you start the filter, you need to choose the way you will be working – color or B&W. They differ in terms of presets and also have slightly different fine-tuning parameters. When the filter is running, you can switch between the color and the B&W modes through the top Filter menu, where you can either pick “Color” or “Black and White”.
Each mode has the same tabs, which are Settings, Color, Tone, Focus, and Grain. Their purpose is the same but the settings parameters are slightly different. On the right, there is a preview window with a convenient Preview Split feature that allows you to split the image in the window and show half of the image with the effect applied and half of the original one.
When working with RAW files, you don’t need to import them from a card or your hard drive. There is a feature that allows you to simply copy the RAW image and another one that lets you bookmark the folder with these files and all of its contents will be brought into Alien Skin Exposure.
There is no cataloging system like the one you have in Lightroom, which is more file-management-oriented. Instead, Alien Skin Exposure was created to do the photo editing as quickly as possible and then either post the result online or print it. The program will create a corresponding separate folder within the one you are working with.
There are people who prefer this way of working due to the problem with a corrupt catalog in Lightroom (it is not too common, but can still occur if you don’t close Lightroom in a proper way or if there was a computer crash). Another great feature is that Alien Skin offers a limited number of shared edits.
You should use this program on computers that can share the same files (use Network Attached Storage, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, whatever you prefer). If you decide to move the original files, you don’t need to move the catalog separately, your Alien Skin folder will move with the source file folder.
Unlike Lightroom, which will ask you to import all the images you want to edit and add them to the program’s catalog, Alien Skin Exposure saves you time by omitting this step. By clicking the plus icon in the Folders area, you can show the path to the folder with the images you want to edit and it will be included without the extra waiting time.
If new files are added to a folder that you have in your Alien Skin, you can see them too since the program automatically updates the contents of the folder and makes new images available for editing.
Alien photo editor has many presets. If you want to make a vintage-style portrait that will look like a Kodachrome shot from the 1950s complete it with scratches, or an image with a focus that is shaped like a heart, or quickly soften the skin and whiten the teeth of a model, you can do it all and more with Alien Exposure presets.
Some of these presets come with several layers and if you want to tweak any of these, no one should really stop you. Another thing is stacking several presets on a single image, try playing with that too.
If you want to be even more creative with your images, you can use such features as Grain, Overlays, Focus, Bokeh or IR. You can play with borders, textures, and light effects. It is something you don’t have in Lightroom.
The website has all the Alien Skin plugins laid out for you to see how they work and what effects they add. Unfortunately, you won’t find too many presets online made by other companies or designers, but it shouldn’t stop you if you want to create something yourself.
The first tab is Settings, which is a list of the presets this plug-in offers. You can either choose the film effect or any other photo effect you want. The preview window will show you what the final image is going to look like. If you are happy with it, that’s great. If not? Well, try other tabs, where you can fine-tune the effect by changing different settings.
The panel with Basic adjustments in Alien Skin Exposure is very similar to that in Lightroom. You have sliders that control the settings of exposure, contrast, shadows and highlights, whites and blacks, clarity, vibrance, and saturation. There is no autocorrect feature, though.
Denoising works the way it does in the majority of image editing apps: there are sliders that allow you to reduce color or brightness noise. It has the same drawback all noise reduction features have, a lot of detail and definition in the image will be lost. You can try to improve it with the Detail slider but it doesn’t really help much.
Another type of adjustment available in Alien Skin Exposure is Lens correction based on your lens model (it is similar to the one you have in Lightroom). It is still less efficient than the one you get from its competitor. Finally, there are several tools and adjustments that are a big advantage of Alien Skin. These are the dehaze tool, chromatic aberration, fringing correction, and vignette correction.
The Tone tab is where you can control the contrast. It is slightly similar to the way curves work in Photoshop but is more convenient. You can adjust contrast in the shadows, mid-tones, and highlights by changing the curve itself or moving the sliders. The blue line on the diagram will show how much the curve changed after you moved a slider.
If you want to buy Alien Skin Exposure X5 only, you need to pay $119. If, however, you are interested in some additional Alien Skin products, the total price will come up to $149. If you are using an older version, you can also purchase an update. If you are new to this software, there is a 30-day trial period.
Alien Skin Exposure X5 is a high-grade app designed for photography amateurs and enthusiasts, who want to level up their photography. It allows users to organize photo libraries in a more efficient way using ratings, colors, and keywords.
The cost of Exposure X5 itself is $119. However, you can get a package with several other Alien Skin utilities for $149.
Primarily, you need to visit the official website and download the plug-in called Exposure X5. You can choose between 2 routes – buy the full edition or make use of a 2-week trial version. When the installation is over, import your photo into Ps or Lr and open the plug-in under the filter menu. When the plug-in is opened, I will quickly characterize it and will make my original homemade presets. You will see how to save the preset settings and export the photo back in Photoshop.
The app can open RAW files and edit them in a non-destructive way. Besides, it is capable of reading DNG files that have been generated by a camera or converted from a proprietary RAW file. If you don’t see your camera type on this list, consider saving images in the DNG format. Another way out is to use a DNG converter thus turning the unsupported file format into the readable one. If you use Exposure X5 as a plug-in for Photoshop or Lightroom, the support for RAW files isn’t relevant. Being supplied with plug-ins, Adobe products can handle RAW files reading themselves.
In case you use Alien Skin Exposure X plug-in in Lightroom, the freebies below will help you instantly transform your photos with a single mouse click.
If you are editing a photo where your model’s face is the main focus or your model is moving, you can apply this preset to enhance the colors, remove shadows and denoise the photograph to make it look sharper.
This B&W preset will work great for different photography genres, including wedding, fashion, portrait, and many more. You will get strong and vivid images.
Vintage effect in your photos looks classic and elegant. It is a must if you photograph people.