Why I Use Exposure X5 for Black and White

Why I Use Exposure X5 for Black and White

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In 5 Steps To Better Black & White Photography (check out the ebook here and the email course here) I recommended Exposure X5 as my favorite black and white plugin. Today I thought I’d explain why I like it so much.

First, let’s take a quick look at Exposure X5’s plus points.

  • You can use Exposure X5 as a plugin with Lightroom Classic or Photoshop CC, or as a standalone program.
  • It has a digital asset management system that makes it a potential rival to Lightroom Classic. If you’re looking for a Lightroom Classic alternative, Exposure X5 could be it.
  • There are over 500 high quality presets.
  • Exposure X5 has most of the core developing tools that you’re used to in Lightroom Classic and Photoshop.
  • There are lots of creative tools, including ones that Lightroom Classic doesn’t have.
  • Exposure X5 has layers.
  • Exposure X5 uses LUTs (Look Up Tables).
  • It’s easy to use.

Black and white in Exposure X5

Now let me show you some of the ways that I use Exposure X5 for black and white photography.

Wet plate collodian

Photographer Jack Lowe is undertaking a multi-year project. He’s set himself the task of photographing the people who work at every lifeboat station in the UK. But Jack doesn’t do things the easy way. He uses a large format camera and the wet plate collodion process to make his portraits. You can learn more about the project, check out his photos and buy prints from the Lifeboat Station Project website.

It’s an inspirational project. Jack’s photos made using the wet plate collodion process are beautiful. But few photographers have the resources, energy or time to use vintage black and white processes.

That’s where plugins like Exposure X5 come in.

One of Jack’s galleries has photos taken in Clovelly, a village close to where I live. I wondered what my photos of the village would look like if I used Exposure X5 to emulate the wet plate collodian process.

Click here to see Jack’s photos

Here’s the result when I used the wet plate collodion emulation presets in Exposure X5. I developed these photos with a preset called Wet Plate – Damaged.

Wet plate collodian Exposure X5
Wet plate collodian Exposure X5
Wet plate collodian Exposure X5
Wet plate collodian Exposure X5
Wet plate collodian Exposure X5

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Lith printing

Back when I used to make black and white prints in a darkroom (over 20 years ago!) I experimented with a process called lith printing. A friend of mine liked the process so much he developed all his black and white photos in lith.

Lith prints have smooth highlights and dark grainy shadows. A good lith print is a work of art.

I like lith printing but I know that not many photographers are going to build a darkroom to start experimenting with it. But instead you can use the lith printing presets in Exposure X5.

Lith printing is great for portraits. Check out the work of Martin Warlbauer, a German photographer who uses makes black and white prints using lith.

Here are some of my lith portraits. I made them all with the Lith – Grainy preset.

Lith portrait Exposure X5
Lith portraits Exposure X5
Lith portrait Exposure X5
Lith portrait Exposure X5

Printing black and white photos

You’ll appreciate these analog processes more if you have a printer, or get your photos printed in a lab. Home printing is better because you can experiment with textured papers. Photos emulating antique processes look beautiful when they’re printed on textured paper.

Not just presets

It’s important to note at this point that Exposure X5 isn’t just about presets. Presets are useful, especially if you want to emulate a specific film or vintage developing process.

But you should treat them as a starting point. From there you can adjust tonal values, and add, adjust or remove textures, frames and lighting effects.

Creative options in Exposure X5

Let’s take a closer look at how this works.

Here’s a photo that I opened in Exposure X5.

Exposure X5 black and white screenshot

The user interface is simple. Presets are on the left, and your photo is in the middle. Just like Lightroom Classic there are panels on the right for adjusting the settings.

You can start by applying a preset, or skip the presets completely. The choice is yours.

In this case I applied the Cyanotype – Brushed (red) preset to the photo.

Borders in Exposure X5

Now let’s say you like the look of a particular preset, but not the border. You can go to the Overlays panel and either turn the border off or pick another one.

The preset I chose applied a brush effect border to the photo. But I like the Platinum Frame 6 border better.

Exposure X5 black and white screenshot

I also like the Damaged 12 border.

Exposure X5 black and white screenshot

You can adjust the size and opacity of borders. This helps stop your photos looking like others.

Textures in Exposure X5

You can also experiment with adding Textures in the Overlays panel. There’s lots to choose from, and you can add your own. You can even use layers to add textures on top of textures.

Here I’ve added a scratches texture to the photo so you can see what it looks like.

Exposure X5 black and white screenshot

Light Effects in Exposure X5

You can also experiment with adding lighting and flare effects. Exposure X5’s lighting effects work better with color photos, but at least you can see how it works.

Exposure X5 black and white screenshot

Summing up

Hopefully this tutorial has helped you see the potential of Exposure X5 for working in black and white. It has a lot of features that I haven’t touched on here, and don’t forget you can also use it for color.

The main idea behind Exposure X5 (and how the plugin started in its original versions) is to give you a tool that helps you bring the analog look to digital photos. If this idea appeals to you then you’ll enjoy using it.

For me, plugins bring fun and creativity to your photography. They let you experiment with different presets and effects without getting bogged down in lengthy and complicated Photoshop tutorials.

If you don’t own Exposure X5 already, then you can buy it or download a free 30 day trial here.

Further reading

Creative Photographer Magazine

Creative Photographer Magazine

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The Magic of Black & White 50 Assignments ebook

About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, publisher, traveler, workshop leader and photographer based in the UK. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.


  1. My Mac doesn’t like Exposure X5…. I keep getting the message: “Error code: SSL_ERROR_RX_RECORD_TOO_LONG” from every link I try! I just want to know the price, but as I read that it is $99 for just the upgrade, I think I will have to stick with Silver Effects & Topaz for my B&W effects! Maybe if I didn’t have the monthly subscription to Adobe, it would be a good alternative to think about?

    1. Author

      Hi Maggi, try the link below and see if you can get to the Exposure X5 website. It’s $119 to buy or $89 to upgrade from a previous version. If you’re already using Silver Efex 2 and Topaz B&W Effects then you have plenty of editing power already for your black and white work and might not need anything else. Best way to tell is download the Exposure X5 trial and see if you like it. For sure it’s a viable alternative to Lightroom Classic, although not as powerful when it comes to the library side of things.


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