A Learning curve that is worth your time
This past year, I took the leap into taking RAW photos. Towards the end of 2017, I upgraded my camera to a Canon 5D Mark IV and at that time, I decided to make the switch permanently over to the RAW format. If you aren’t familiar with it, RAW is a format for digital photographs that will capture all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. Another format that is popular to use is JPEG, but when you shoot in that format image information is compressed and lost so that quality is sometimes sacrificed for file size. RAW is a completely uncompressed format and you can produce higher quality images with the format. Professional photographers will use this format so that they can do ‘touch ups’ and make the photos look as good as they possibly can. You can actually sometimes save photos of poor quality as long as they were shot in RAW.
Once I decided to make the switch over, I wrestled with the best program to use for editing. This is a tricky decision as most people would simply fall back on the ‘standards’ like Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo. In fact, for a long time, I was editing my photos in Affinity Photo (I switched away from Adobe products a couple of years ago) and found that when it comes to editing bulk images, it becomes very cumbersome in Affinity Photo because each image has to be opened separately and the edits have to happen one at a time. After some research, I found the answer to my woes in Alien Skin’s suite of products including Exposure X3, their RAW photo editor.
Details & User Experience
Alien Skin’s package of products includes Exposure X3, SNAPart 4, and Blow UP 3. While the RAW editor was the primary reason I looked into Alien Skin’s software, SNAPart 4 — an app that transforms photos into pieces of art — and Blow UP 3 — a plug-in for Photoshop that enlarges and enhances photos — are both worth having for the graphic designer.
When you first open the application, you will be greeted by a dialog box with news about the app. After you close it, you will notice that the app has loaded all the RAW files that you have on your computer into the browser for easy access and editing. Exposure X3 is a feature-rich app and provides the user with the following options for editing and organizing your images.
- Complete Photo Manager – Aside from the speed of the app, the photo manager is my favorite feature. I didn’t know at first how handy it would be, but after working with it for a while, I can say that it’s great to be able to edit virtual copies without taking up additional disk space. You can group collections together, take a look at side-by-side comparisons of photos, review and edit photo metadata, and even apply keywords as descriptive tags to your photos.
- Non-destructive Workflow – Exposure X3 has what is referred to as a catalog-free workflow. You don’t have to import images to work on them and backups are easy. The system will sync through the cloud so that you can easily work from many computers. Exposure allows for exporting of many file types including JPEG, TIFF, and PSD.
- Presets – Exposure X3 comes with over 500 presets installed in the application. The app also allows for selective presets that will only affect certain settings.
- Photo Editing – The app’s photo editor is quite advanced. It has a lot of the same types of tools as Photoshop or Affinity Photo, but they are optimized to work with RAW files so they work better and faster for that type of editing. Some of the tools include white balance adjustment, color editing, noise reduction, and histogram. There are also a lot of advanced effects for users including overlays, creative focus tools, and grain tools.
- Customizable User Interface – Even though Exposure X3 has a preset when you first open it, you have the option to reposition panels, work with one panel at a time, and use shortcut keys.
Since I was looking for a tool to help me be able to edit RAW files better and faster, when I started working with Exposure X3, I found that I had much more than what I originally thought I needed. In short — the application just works. It opens RAW files with lightning speed and makes it very easy to tweak the photos as you need to. I especially like the before/after feature because it gives you a side-by-side look at the unedited photo and the newly edited one. The file management aspect of the app was unexpected and very welcomed.
SNAPart 4 is a standalone application and plug-in that allows you to experiment with artistic styles and how they apply to your photographs. There is no extensive training required in order to use it. You can select from Snap Art’s presets — oil painting, pencil sketch, crayon and watercolor — and the app will automatically transform your photograph into a finished piece of art. The nice thing about these presets is that they are a place to start if you aren’t experienced with graphics editing. You have the ability in the app modify the presets to suit your needs.
Snap Art is easy to use and integrates easily with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture as a plug-in. Edits generate very fast and are very customizable. Another big pro is that Snap Art is precise and effects look like they were done by hand and not a computer program. The app is easy to use and I like the fact that you can use it as a stand-alone app or as a plug-in. When you work with Snap Art as a standalone app, like I did, you can work with several images at the same time. Snap Art has a very intuitive interface, but it does not have a true manual — only video tutorials. Other than that, Snap Art is a great way to take your photographs to the next level.
Blow UP 3
Blow UP is a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop that will enlarge photos without degrading them. Some of the new features of the plug-in include a new faster speed and the ability to resize images up to 300,000 pixels per side (the maximum that Photoshop can handle). Blow UP can also handle CMYK images and 16-bit images. Presets are available for different paper sizes (photo, standard US, etc.) and Blow UP will even handle output sharpening. I really love Blow UP because it enhances what you are doing with the rest of the Exposure bundle and it’s very easy to use.
The Exposure X3 bundle has changed the way that I work with my RAW files and completely organized my workflow. Instead of having a headache from working with a single file at a time, I can now view all my editable files and work through the entire library. The entire bundle retails for $199 and in my opinion, that’s a steal considering that Photoshop requires a monthly subscription in order to use it. It does look like Alien Skin does not offer free upgrades, but does discount the cost quite a bit. Even though I had a bit of a learning curve when I started working with Exposure X3, I am really glad I gave it a try because it really does make my photo editing a lot easier.