Product Review: Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 Plug-In

By Diane Berkenfeld

Alien Skin Software’s Exposure 3 plug-in lets you turn your digital images into the photographs you took yesteryear. Sorta. What the plug-in does, is, new gear announcement exposure 3 simulate film—an extensive library of accurate film properties, both color and B&W. In addition to the film simulation, the software offers the added creativity of simulating Lo-Fi and vintage effects. Don’t have a Holga or plastic toy camera but wish you could have taken a certain photo with one? No worries, just run the image through Exposure 3 and you can turn your crisp, perfect image into the toy-camera output of your dreams.

Get Technical

The computer I tested Exposure 3 on is a Macbook Pro with an Intel Core Duo Processor, Mac OS 10.6.3 with 2 Gigs of RAM.

The Exposure 3 plug-in can be used with Photoshop CS5 or Lightroom 3. I’ve found it works faster when using it from within Photoshop than launching it as an external editor for Lightroom. Exposure 3 offers 64-bit support for Photoshop CS5 on both the Mac and PC.

If you choose to run it through Lightroom 2 or 3, you don’t need to have Photoshop on the computer to run the plug-in, however I think that most pro photographers reading this review have Photoshop. Exposure 3 is also compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 and CS4, Adobe Lightroom 2, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or later, and Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X3.

Alien Skin suggests Microsoft Windows users have at least a Pentium 4 processor or compatible and Windows XP SP3 or later. Apple Macintosh users must have an Intel processor and Mac OS X 10.5 or later. A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

Whether your workflow includes Lightroom or Photoshop, Exposure 3 offers multiple ways to alter your images without being destructive to the files. In Lightroom you can choose to edit a copy or edit a copy with Lightroom adjustments, in addition to editing the image file. In Photoshop, the software can render effects on a duplicate layer instead of the original; or be used as a Smart Filter.

The company has also improved the user interface in this iteration of Exposure. Once you launch the plug-in, you choose either color or B&W. Although not clocked with a stopwatch, I did notice previews were quicker than previous versions of the software. And because there are so many settings you can choose from, I found myself looking at the preview of one particular setting and if I didn’t like it, I immediately clicked the next one as soon as the preview was complete. I never found myself waiting for the previews before I was ready to move onto the next one.

exposure 3 screenshot for review

Screenshot of the Exposure 3 plug-in launched from Photoshop CS5 on a Mac, showing a split screen. The settings listing shows the film types/Lo-Fi camera effects; further tweaking can be done by clicking on color, focus, tone, grain and age, after choosing a film simulation. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

Get Creative

In addition to all of the technical improvements ‘under the hood’ so to speak, Alien Skin has added the simulation of Lo-Fi toy cameras, aging effects and more vintage films like Technicolor and old Kodachrome, in addition to other film types, toning and aging settings. image for exposure 3 review

(top left) Original image of a recording studio's sound board; (top right) Fuji Sensia low light cross process; (bottom left) Fuji Neopan 1600 dust and scratches; (bottom right) vignette soft Agfa APX 100. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

If you’re looking to replicate the look of one of your favorite films, odds are you’ll find what you’re looking for in Exposure 3. There are 500 presets you can choose from. But if you want to use a certain film look as a stepping stone to a more unique look, you can do that too, because the plug-in lets you make numerous tweaks to the settings provided, and it allows you to save presets too.

As much as you may spend hours restoring images that came from a scratched print, neg. or slide, it would take you only mere seconds to add dust and scratches, or realistically fade colors to age a digital image using Exposure 3.

shots of water for review of exposure 3

(top left) Original image of marshes and the far shore reflected in the water; (top right) Bleach bypass; (bottom left) EPP cross process; (bottom right) Lomo Fujifilm cross process. Photograph © Diane Berkenfeld.

What makes Exposure 3 such a great plug-in is the fact that Alien Skin has put in a lot of work to make sure the film simulations are realistic. When I shot film, I loved the look of big grain in B&W and used to shoot Kodak Tmax 3200; with regards to color, I’d shoot Fujifilm chrome film because I loved the warmth of the final images. Now I can take my digital images and give them the “look” of those films. For discontinued films, like Kodachrome, which will cease being processed by the end of the year, this means a lot. [For more on Kodachrome's film and processing discontinuation, click here —Ed.] Oh, and being able to take a photograph handheld, at whatever exposure ambient lighting allows, then simulate Kodachrome 25 or another extremely slow film sounds like a better prospect than having to wait for exactly the right moment—not to mention lugging a tripod, and perhaps using a cable release. I won’t even go into trying to find a lab that will cross-process your film without charging you an-arm-and-a-leg. Even a film-lover like myself has to admit that digital does have its advantages.

Exposure 3 sells for $249, upgrade from any version for $99.

Go to for more information.


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