Lightroom is a powerful application, but it doesn’t do everything. One way to extend its range is to use Photoshop to handle the tasks that Lightroom can’t. Another is to use plugins such as Alien Skin’s Exposure X4. Plugins are easier to use than Photoshop, and Exposure X4 is one of my favorites.
What is Exposure X4?
Exposure X4 is a fully featured application that you can use either as a standalone product or a Lightroom or Photoshop plugin. If you use it as a standalone product it has an advanced Catalog that makes it a genuine alternative to Lightroom’s Library module (we’ll take a look at that in a future tutorial). As a plugin it extends Lightroom’s capabilities and gives you lots of creative options to make your photos more interesting.
Exposure X4 as a Lightroom plugin
If you’re a Lightroom user and you’re happy with the Creative Photography Plan then there’s no reason to explore Exposure X4’s Catalog other than curiosity.
In this scenario you use Lightroom to manage your photos, carry out basic developing, then send your photos to Exposure X4 when you want to use its unique tools.
Lightroom converts your photo file to a 16 bit TIFF file (actually, the file format of your choice, but TIFF is best as it gives the highest image quality) and sends it over to Exposure X4. When you’re finished in X4, simply close it and you’ll end up back in Lightroom with your newly enhanced TIFF file.
It’s in this context that we’ll explore the use of Exposure X4 in this tutorial.
Exposure X4 layout
When you open a photo in Exposure X4 you’ll see that the layout is similar to Lightroom’s. The photo you’re working on is displayed in the centre, with presets on the left and other controls on the right (you can customize the layout in Preferences).
Just like Lightroom you can click on the white arrows next to the left- and right-hand panels to remove them from the screen, giving you a larger working area in the centre.
Exposure X4 presets
Like most other plugins Exposure X4 has presets. What sets Exposure X4’s presets apart from those in other applications are the quantity and quality. It has over 500 presets organized in categories like B&W Films, Color Films – Vintage, Color Tonality and so on.
Many of the presets emulate film. Alien Skin has gone to a great deal of trouble to create these presets, studying negatives to learn how to imitate their tonality and grain structure. If you like the film look, you’ll be in your element with Exposure X4.
Now it’s time to show you some of my favorite presets in Exposure X4. I’m going to spend a bit of time on this. Exposure X4 has lots of beautiful presets, and they will help you appreciate the program’s potential.
First, this is the original photo without any presets applied.
More than 20 color presets loosely based around movie themes.
This is the Technicolor Process 2 – Faded & Scratched preset. I’ve chosen it because it shows how you can add scratch effects to photos in Exposure X4, something you can’t do in Lightroom.
The Bleach Bypass preset gives an interesting faded effect that I like.
Color Films – Aged presets
A group of 29 presets giving various faded effects, including simulation of old film types such as Agfacolor Neu and Kodachrome. This is the Color Photo – Warm Skin preset.
This is the Yellowed and Darkened (Damaged) preset.
Color Films – Polaroid presets
This set of presets simulates the look of various color polaroid films, including Polachrome and Fuji FP. These are beautiful presets. The Polachrome preset is one of my favorites.
So is the 600 – Faded preset.
Color Films – Vintage presets
Where would a plug-in be without a variety of vintage film presets? These 25 presets are perfect if you like the vintage look. This is the Kodachrome 35mm – Faded (Cyan) preset. This preset shows you one of Exposure X4’s border options, another tool that Lightroom doesn’t have.
The Kodachrome II – Slide presets shows a different border style.
If you’re into black and white photography you’ll be pleased to hear that Exposure X4 has a good selection of black and white presets.
B&W Films – Vintage presets
This group contains 44 presets that imitate old photographic processes such as Calotype, Cyanotype, Daguerrotype and Wet Plate. This is the Wet Plate Damaged preset.
If you’re a fan of Lith printing in the black and white darkroom you’ll love the Lith presets in Exposure X4. This is the Lith milder preset.
The Lo-Fi presets imitate the type of look you would get if you used a toy camera such as a Holga, Lomo or Diana, or used black and white film and abused it in some way, perhaps by scratching or overexposing it. These presets help you create the grungy look that some photographers like. This is the Agfa APX Lomo LCA preset.
This is the Ilford Hp5 Plus 400 – Underexposed preset.
B&W Films – Polaroid presets
This group has 14 presets emulating different polaroid film types. For example, Polaroid 55 is an instant film that peels apart to give both a monochrome print and a black and white negative. The prints have a distinctive border where the two parts of the film are stuck together. This is the Polaroid 55 – Aged preset.
This is the Polapan – Dust and Scratches preset.
The right-hand panels
Just like Lightroom Exposure 4 has a series of panels on the right-hand side of the interface where you can apply various adjustments and effects to your photos. As this is an introduction to using Exposure 4 as a Lightroom plugin, I’ll take a brief look at the tools that are unique to Exposure 4 and that you’re most likely to find useful. They are found in two panels – Overlays and Bokeh.
The Overlays panel
There are three things you can do in the Overlays panel: add a border, add light effects, or add dust and scratches. Each setting has a number of presets, all of which are customizable, giving you a wide range of possibilities.
If you like a preset, but dislike the texture or border that comes with it, you can change or remove them in this panel.
The Overlays panel is a lot of fun, and if you’ve become accustomed to using Lightroom, which doesn’t have any of these features, you may be like a kid in a candy store at first. Go ahead, enjoy yourself and see what Exposure X4 has to offer.
These are some of the borders you’ll find in the Overlays panel.
These are some of the light effects.
These are some of the textures. They seem to work best on photos with dark backgrounds.
The Bokeh panel
Use the Bokeh panel to apply lens blur type effects to your photos. The benefit of this is that you can apply them retrospectively to otherwise sharp photos. Here’s a before and after example.
Here’s another showing a tilt-shift type effect.
These two examples only touch on what you can do with the bokeh panel, which is worth exploring for its creative options.
Exposure X4 and layers
Yes, Exposure X4 has layers. That means you can apply filter on top of filter, and use a mask so that the filter is only applied to part of the image. You can also adjust the opacity of a layer if a certain filter is too strong.
This applies to all the adjustments in the right-hand panels, not just filters. Using layers means that Exposure X4 is a versatile piece of software that gives you the control to make creative effects as strong or as subtle as you want.
Here are some more photos I developed in Exposure X4.
Exposure X4 is a powerful application that adds a number of creative tools to the photographer’s toolkit. The 500+ presets give you a great starting point for exploring Exposure X4’s creative potential, and you can use the right-hand panels and layers to create a near infinite array of effects (and save them as presets to use again).
Personally, I prefer to use Exposure X4 as a Lightroom plugin, but you can explore its cataloging tools if you’re looking for an alternative to Lightroom Classic.
How much does Exposure X4 cost?
You can buy Exposure X4 for $US149 (upgrade price $99), or you can download a free 30 day trial. There’s no subscription fee. Learn more here.