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Some professional photographers jumped readily across the digital divide from film to digital photography. Others are crossing over more reluctantly. One thing they all have in common is nostalgia for their favorite film stocks. Alien Skin Software is making them feel a bit more at home with Exposure, a Photoshop CS and CS2 plug-in that simulates the look of photographs shot with a variety of color and black-and-white films. With one click, your digital photographs can take on the saturated colors of Fuji Velvia or the unique grain of Ilford Delta 3200.

Alien Skin developed Exposure’s many film simulations by carefully analyzing real films and using that information to emulate the characteristics of each, and paying special attention to film grain. Exposure re-creates the size, shape, color, and location of real grain, rather than just throwing single-pixel digital noise into images. The plug-in also includes some image-optimization and darkroom-effect presets such as cross-processing (which mimics processing slide or negative film with incompatible chemistry) and soft focus.

The plug-in’s detailed interface is well organized and relatively easy to use, considering the number of controls it packs in. The preview screen is large and offers a choice of split or toggle previews. You can stick with any of Exposure’s one-click factory settings or create your own presets, using the many controls tucked away behind the Color, Tone, Focus, and Grain tabs. It’s easy to save your custom recipes for reuse or export them to share with colleagues. The product performs well, applying its presets within seconds. And it ships with a comprehensive manual and Help files, although the latter are somewhat buried in the interface.

Exposure’s image-optimization settings include some that aim to improve upon editing controls in Photoshop. For example, the Tone tab features an intuitive set of sliders for individually adjusting shadows, midtones, highlights, and contrast. The Color tab contains a useful Cooling/Warming slider for varying color temperature while preserving image luminosity.

At $199, Exposure is more expensive than other Photoshop plug-ins that simulate certain film stocks, such as Visual Infinity’s Grain Surgery 2 ($179), which has been available since the days of Photoshop 5.5, and PixelGenius’s PhotoKit Color 2 ($100). But Exposure’s cost is justified by its realistic film-grain simulations and its comprehensive controls, and by the fact that it is marketed primarily to photo pros.

Macworld’s buying advice

Exposure is a good choice for professional photographers who want a quick way to simulate the look of a favorite film stock. The plug-in’s film emulations look quite authentic and are easy to preview and apply.

[ Jan Kabili is a Photoshop author and trainer. Her latest book is How to Wow: Photoshop CS2 for the Web (Peachpit Press, 2005). ]

Exposure’s split-screen preview shows the plug-in’s simulation of GAF 500, a discontinued grainy color film.
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