Hugh John uses Alien Skin to develop his 'darkroom' techniques
The recent release of updated versions of Exposure and Bokeh consolidates Alien Skin's position as one of, if not the, third party filter provider for Adobe's digital imaging programs.
Exposure, now in its third iteration, is a product that creeps up on you unawares. If you take advantage of Alien Skin's trial offer for example, you'll be seriously tempted to buy the full version.
There's a tantalising irony when software companies create applications that, in Alien Skin's own promotional literature, "take the digital out of digital photography". Just as hi-fi buffs pine for the real or imagined warmth of valve amplification, many photographers lament the passing of analogue, replete with noise, grain, age and scratches. If that's what you want, look no further. Exposure offers you configurable and scalable versions of all of the above, and should the nostalgia bug bite deeper, you can dial up specific film stock from times past. Agfa, Ilford, Kodak, Fuji: the giants from analogue photography's glorious Technicolor past are all here.
Exposure has more than 500 presets grouped together under settings such as Cinema, Color Films, Polaroid, Print, Cross Processing, Fading and Vintage. These simulations can be further refined using the sliders – Color, Tone, Focus, Grain, Infrared, Lo-Fi and Tonality adjustments.
Although the application was created, says the Exposure team, "for industry professionals", the plug-in is, they say, "of great benefit in teaching digital photographers about analogue photography and analogue photographers, historic film and much more." From an education perspective, it's a wonderful way to introduce students to printing processes from the previous century. It may not quite be the real deal – sloshing trays around in the darkroom, subdued red light, prints and clothes pegs – but it produces an excellent approximation of effects like calotype, sepia, daguerrrotype and infrared.
The big question in these mean times is whether the cost of such a filter can be justified. Naysayers will claim that many of these effects, especially grain simulation, can be produced in Photoshop Creative Suite 5 but there are two considerations to bear in mind. How laborious and complicated would such a process be in Photoshop? How authenic would the result be? The simple answer is; take up Alien Skin's trial offer and make up your own mind.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 4
Value for money 3
Bokeh – it comes from the Japanese word boke, meaning blur or haze – is used by photographers to describe the out-of-focus effects previously only achievable through the use of high-quality (and enormously expensive) camera lenses.
Bokeh, the filter, makes use of Photoshop layer and non-destructive editing technology to create similar software-shaped effects. The original image remains pristine while the Bokeh effects are visible on a new layer which can, if desired, be merged with the original layer.
Some of the results are spectacular and are achieved by adjusting the 'virtual' shape of the aperture to mimic 'old time' camera effects by selecting from three to eleven blades, circles or even, for that romantic shot, a heart. These configurations can be further tweaked with a slider controls that sharpen or blur the aperture. It's even possible to apply colour bleaching within a vignette. And, as these two images show, convincing depth of field effects.
Unlike Exposure, which produces its range of effects with the plug-in, Bokeh benefits from an understanding of masking in Photoshop. It is possible to achieve excellent reuslt working purely within the parameters of the filter but the power and subtlety of Bokeh are significantly enhanced when used in conjunction with Photoshop's own tools. It's worth noting too that, unlike some third party filter manufacturers, Alien Skin adheres faithfully to Photoshop's own protocol of keystrokes and shortcuts.
Bokeh is an post-production tool which can introduce effects that would otherwise require the use of costly hardware. With this filter you can create depth of field simulation, tilt-and-shift effect, highly configurable vignetting and the popular Lensbaby effect without having to lug around a heavy camera bag. That has to be worth the cost of the program doesn't it?
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for Purpose 5
Ease of Use 3
Value for money 3
Image editing software that can reproduce the effects of different film stocks: online price; £155
Image editing software that simulates depth of field and creates effects like tilt and shift , online price £125
Both programs are 64 bit enabled and both make full use of modern, multi-threaded processors. They are compatible with Adobe Photoshop 3 or later, Adobe Lightroom 2 or later, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or later and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X3. You can download trial versions, Windows or Mac, from: www.alienskin.com/downloads. The programs run in full mode for 30 days. If purchased they can be activated online with a licence code. The main Alien Skin site, at www.alienskin.com, hosts an extensive video-clip library of tutorials.