You can enhance your photos by giving them an accurate look of film with or without grain. You can opt to composite using textures, add borders, and change bokeh, but rarely will you get all those features in one filter that you can use from within the major image catalogue apps such as Lightroom and Aperture as well as Photoshop. Alien Skin Exposure 6 has everything you need and works as a stand-alone application with batch processing functionality as well.
The two most important new features of Exposure 6 are the Basics panel, which allows you to set basic image corrections such as exposure, brightness and contrast, and the Overlays feature with textures, borders and image leaks created by Parker J. Pfister. Another great feature is the integration of the Bokeh module within Exposure 6.
Of course, the main reason why you’ll want to have Exposure 6 is its vast array of high-quality film looks. These range from films like Kodak Portra to infrared and Lomo image looks. There’s now also a set called Cinematic, which includes typical cinematic looks for motion picture such as Bleach Bypass.
All of these looks can be changed and customised with a full range of settings, including the option to add or leave out grain and change the tone curve. With respect to the latter and the other basic adjustments you’ll probably use in the stand-alone version, I was expecting to see a histogram in the stand-alone version, but there isn’t any. The good news is that your image changes in real-time, so you can visually check the changes you apply as you apply them — but you’d better see to it your monitor is perfectly calibrated and profiled.
As in previous versions, you can add vignettes and create glamour shots by adding glow, or create images with more local contrast to achieve ‘character’ effects — or fake HDR if you wish. All of these features are crafted with the care and attention we have come to expect from Alien Skin, so quality is never an issue.
However, if one module jumps out, it must be the Overlays module, which is simply brilliant. It offers three creative capabilities: Border, Light Effect and Texture. Each of these effects comes with a generous bunch of presets, but you can create your own and import these into the module.
The Border effect can be selected from a nice set of different borders, neatly organised in categories. For example, you’ll find Kodak slide borders, but also Polaroid borders. There are randomise buttons as well as flip and invert brightness buttons. Borders can also be zoomed in.
The Light Effect part of the module lets you select image leaks from different categories. Opacity can be changed as well as zoom factor.
The Texture effect offers Dust, Paper and Scratches textures to round off the Overlays effect — well, sort of: there is one slider that doesn’t fit into any of the Overlays modules, which is the Protect slider. With the Protect slider you can set an area, which you don’t want to have any of the Overlays effects applied to. The Plus button lets you define the area, the slider lets you set how much protection you want. It is the icing on the cake as far as the Overlays module is concerned, in my opinion.
The stand-alone version of Exposure 6 has a nice interface, but it’s a bit of a mystery in that it doesn’t come with a save button on my system, but an “Apply” and “Revert” button — which makes it appear as if it’s a stripped plug-in. In addition, it doesn’t support RAW images at all. That means you can’t send images from within Photo Mechanic to Exposure 6 as Photo Mechanic automatically sends RAW. You can change this behaviour, but since JPEGs are usually only used as preview images, it’s a bad idea to edit those instead of the RAW ones.
That’s my main criticism of Exposure 6: if you are going to include a stand-alone version, why not ensure it will work with RAW? I mean, there used to be a time when RAW decoders came in all kinds and sizes, but in the Mavericks era it’s all natively supported by Apple and its RAW engine isn’t bad at all.