I Want to Love Like the Aliens Do: Exploring Alien Skin's Exposure X Bundle

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday June 30, 2016

Well I saw the thing coming out of the sky
It had one long horn and one big eye
I commenced to shakin' and I said oo-wee
It looks like a purple people eater to me
It was a one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater
One-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater
Sure looks strange to me

         "The Purple People Eater” Sheb Wooley

One of the things that I am really attracted to in the Exposure X editing program is the assortment of presets that mimic all types of color and black-and-white films dating almost back to the beginnings of photography. The Autochrome process was patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers in France and was first marketed in 1907 and for me it has always marked the true beginning of color photography. It's a blast to see my images, like this one of an 1844 Chapel near my home in Connecticut, reinvented in the look of the Autochrome process. Creating the look is simple and the software offers a full suite of tools for refining the images.

Speaking of all things purple, this is Kent Falls in Kent, Connecticut converted using one of the many IR options in the Exposure X editing software. 

The Aliens have Landed

As anyone who has ever had even a short conversation with me will tell you, I have a very tangential mind. Often I start to focus on one thing and my mind goes reeling off in six other directions looking for connections. It can make for some very long and twisted conversations. (I’m sure that if I was a kid today I would be diagnosed with ADD, but I prefer to think of it as having a lot of divergent interests.) Whenever I see the name Alien Skin, for example, I start flashing back to old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits episodes and, of course, to all of the alien-related songs dwelling in my somewhat demented internal music library.

Over the past few weeks, as I started exploring (and got very addicted to) Alien Skin’s Exposure X bundle software, one mental association led to another and pretty soon the house was rocking with, among other songs, Sheb Wooley’s old novelty song (lyric above) which was a huge hit when I was a kid. So if you happen to be a neighbor of mine and recently heard that song piping out of my windows way too many times in the wee hours, there’s your explanation. (If you’re too young to remember it, you can hear the song here. ) And naturally the name Exposure X sent me off in search of X-Men clips, and then there’s that whole alien birth scene in Men in Black and…I told you, tangential

If aliens are going to land anywhere it will no doubt be in the desert SW. Yet another aspect of the Exposure X editing tools that I liked was the ability to quickly change the look of an image with just a few clicks rather than torturing myself in Photoshop with a long involved editing process. It really is a much faster and fun way to edit, no question. The top shot in this pair is a straight photo that I took outside of Tucson, Arizona at twilight. For the bottom image I selected an option called "Golden Hour, Orange" from the Color Miscellaneous Effects preset on the left of the editing screen.

Stand Alone or Plug Me In

Focus Wignall—back to present day planet Earth. Alien Skin Exposure X bundle actually consists of three separate modules: Exposure X (a comprehensive editing and organizing program with some nifty add-on features that I’ll cover below), Snap Art 4 (a creative filtering suite featuring some very fun creative effects) and Blow Up 3 (for resizing and de-noising your images to make very big prints).

When you download the software bundle, you have two options: you can either use it as a stand-alone editor and organizer or you can simply use the Exposure X editor and the other two programs as plug-ins in either Lightroom or Photoshop. The stand-alone version has several advantages (particularly if you’re not already married to an editing and organization program) that make it attractive (and surprisingly affordable). Some of the features of using the stand alone include:

  • When Exposure X first launches, it looks for and builds a preview for each image in three different locations on your computer: your desktop, your documents folder and your pictures folder. You can also navigate to specific drives or folders to create previews for those images. 
  • You can use tools like star rating, color labels and flags to help categorize images and then you can filter those images to find them quickly—calling up only blue-labeled images or four-star images, for example. Nice.
  • Once you have worked an image and saved it, a small metadata file containing the edits is attached alongside the original. Once you’re completely in love with an image, you can then use the export feature to save the image (as a JPEG or TIFF file) and place it wherever you like.
  • One advantage of working with the Exposure X bundle as a stand alone is just the convenience of not having to call up the filter each time that you decide to experiment with a particular filter, preset or effect. Since you’re already in the program you are already there—there’s no time wasted switching back and forth between programs. That did slow me down in Photoshop, but it’s no different than calling up any third-party filter. Importantly, however, I think that newbies to editing will probably find the stand-alone workflow of this bundle vastly simpler and faster to learn and use than programs like Photoshop. 

Since my normal workflow for the past 20+ years is in Photoshop, however, I chose to use this primarily as a plug-in, but I could see almost immediately how much more convenient it is to be hanging out in the same program and hopping quickly between organizing, editing and creative effects. There is one thing that I do like about working in Photoshop, by the way, and that is that I get to use the layers palette so that I can keep working the image with Photoshop tools (including making adjustments directly to the Exposure X layer) and have the capability to turn layers on and off or reshuffle their order, etc. Advantage: plug-in.

By the way, I haven’t had a chance to test the Blow Up 3 component yet but I will be sending out a few files to a lab shortly, so I’ll report back on that. I have some serious gaps in my wall space, so I’m looking forward to seeing some big prints. 

Here's a comparison of old vs. new: My original Kodachrome slide converted to a "Wet Plate" found in the selection of film presets in the Exposure X soft are. Cool look with just one keystroke, yeah?

The Exposure X Module

The Exposure X editing module is a sophisticated and full-fledged RAW editor, with all of the controls that you’d find in any other RAW editor, but with some unusual twists and additions. As you open the editor you’ll see a list of editing tools to the right. The first panel in the navigator window is the Basic panel and it includes adjustments for temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, vibrance and saturation. Below that are additional windows for: Detail (sharpening, noise), Color (detailed saturation controls, by color), Tone Curve (a curves tool), Vignette, Overlays (frames, other effects), Focus (sharpness, blur), Grain, IR (infrared effects)  and lastly a really flexible (and fun) Bokeh control. 

Another cool option available in the Exposure X editing software is the "bokeh" tool that helps you separate your main subject from their surroundings with a bokeh look. You can modify shape, size, intensity, etc of the bokeh endlessly. This is St. Denis holding his own head in his hands on the facade of Nortre Dame in Paris.

Each of these tools has a variety of submenus that let you modify your images in greater detail. The bokeh control, for instance, let’s you set the bokeh size, amount, shape, placement, etc. By the way, the Alien Skin site and Youtube channel have a ton of tutorials that are extremely helpful.

On the left are a series of presets, most of which are intended to mimic the look of certain classic films. The options include a long list of standard black and white films, vintage black and white films, color and black and white infrared films, color slide and print films (a lot of them!), Polaroids, etc. You can easily get lost in all of the options and with alien songs blasting away in the background (Love Like Aliens from a short film by Rashad Haughton became on of my favorites), I spent hours re-inventing my images and revisiting my own vintage youth. Once you open a particular preset, there is a gallery of thumbnails that show you want the effect will look like. 

Being a longtime Kodachrome slide film user, I had a sudden flashback when I converted one of my digital files to with a preset called "Kodakchrome: Slide Frame." Yes, that's just how the slides looked on my light table so many years ago.

I found the film conversion presets to be particularly fun and interesting because, according to Alien Skin, these effects have been carefully researched and tested to be as accurate as possible. And I’d have to say that, while my mind is a bit foggy when it tries to recall the actual look of some of these films, for things like Panatomic X and Ilford HP5, it was spookily accurate. The nice thing is that, even after you apply that effect, you can just flip across the screen and begin refining your images using the more traditional editing controls. I do most of my B&W conversions in Photoshop and I work them carefully one tone at a time, but it’s kind of interesting (and fast) to be able to jump right into a certain film look when making conversions.

Black-and-white conversions are simple fast in Exposure X and you get to select from a huge list of traditional black-and-white film presets. This image was converted from a Nikon digital file using the Panatomic X preset option. I then made additional exposure and tonal adjustments using the basic editing panel. 

Snap Art 4

Snap Art 4 is what I would call the “frustrated artist” part of this bundle and it’s also the most addictive. It is basically a way for wannabe hand artists (like me) to turn their photographs into something that no longer resembles a photograph. And truthfully, isn’t that what most of us are after? Well, OK, it’s what we’re after when we’ve had a long, long day in a reality-based world where flights of fancy are frowned upon. This program is the gateway to fanciful ideas.

If you're a frustrated painter like me, you'll love the various natural art options available in the Snap Art 4 program. I got addicted to using the various oil-paint options to give my images a very realistic oil-paint look. Once you've chosen a particular look you can then modify things like brush type, stroke length, stroke curvature, photorealism, paint thickness, etc. Both of these images were created using the "Impasto" option--an oil-painting technique where thick layers of paint are applied. I think I may use the bottom file with Blow Up 3 and get a big print made for the den.

When you open the program you’ll see a list of traditional art media listed on the left, including: color pencil, comics, crayon, impasto, oil paint pastels, and pen and ink. There are also a few more technique-related options like pointillism, stylization (my favorite, by the way) and water color effects. Again, there is a gallery of thumbnails that show you how the effect will look on your image—and yes the program is showing you your image in each thumbnail. Cool.  On the right are tools that will help you refine your selections—things like brush size (even bristle size), stroke length, stroke curvature, etc. One thing I found out was that while using a technique like Impasto (see my examples here) to quickly turn your photo into an oil painting, you soon find yourself using the refinement tools to make that look your own. What begins as a slightly gimmicky idea ends up testing your skills as an artist.


Trust me when I say you will want a large cup of tea or coffee beside you as you enter this fun alien realm. No matter how tacky you think some of the effects might be at the outset, the Exposure X editing tools are first class. And once you learn to refine and control the special effects, you’ll start to really appreciate the fun factor. As tangential as my mind might be, I’m also obsessively loyal to certain things that I’ve worked with for many years, like Photoshop. But once I got deeper and deeper into this suite of software tools, I found myself inspired and challenged in some very unexpected ways. Go to the site and you can try it yourself, full versions, for 30 days for free—you’ll become addicted, too. 

This is Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley of France and the original shot has always been one of my favorites. I made this variation using something called "Stylize" (in this case I chose the "many lines" option) in the Snap Art 4 collection of creative tools. 

A cormorant drying its wings reinvented using a Crayons tool that I modified and then saved it (and named it) as a new filter for later use--a great option that makes it easy to reapply custom looks. I called it "Crayons Wiggy Warm." Oh, if only I could really draw that nicely!

Product News

GoPro Camera Pro Seat Rail Mount. Hey, it’s not where you’re going that matters, it’s what you leave in the rearview mirror! At least that’s the theory behind GoPro’s new Camera Pro Seat Rail Mount—a rear-facing camera mount that attaches to most two-rail seats and is compatible with all of GoPro’s cameras and housings. The company has also introduced the new lightweight and weather-resistant GoPro Camera Seeker Bag that can hold up to five GoPro cameras, as well as multiple batteries and microSD cards, etc. An Integrated chest mount captures hands-free footage from your point of view (so you can catch views coming and going, I guess). 

Fujifilm Instax SHARE SP-2. For all of those who can’t quite figure out how to download their image files from their smartphones, Fuji will save you the trouble. The new Fujifilm Instax SHARE SP-2 portable printer (an update of their SP-1) lets you print out your best smartphone pictures in high quality 2" x 3" sized prints directly from your phone using a wifi app. The printer, says Fujifilm, features a sleek body, better image quality, improved Wi-Fi connectivity and a refined operation. It’s also said to offer improved speed over the original Share SP-1 and can turn out prints in just 10 seconds. Yep, you can also print your photos from your Instagram and Facebook accounts. Comes with a rechargeable battery that charges via micro USB port. How cool will you be at the beach this summer handing out prints on the spot?

Epson Legacy Papers now shipping. If you’re thinking about selling prints at an outdoor art show this summer then Epson has some good news for you. They have announced that their complete line of advanced photographic Epson Legacy Papers have begun to ship. The new line-up includes Legacy Platine, Legacy Baryta, Legacy Fibre, and Legacy Etching papers. A sample kit featuring three sheets of each style of paper (12 sheets total) is available. The papers are available in both cut sheets and in roll form and are aimed at fine-art and photographic printers. The papers, says Epson, produce outstanding black density, expanded color gamut, smooth tonal gradations, and offer exceptional archival properties required for collectible works of fine art. 


  1. Kathie Powell commented on: June 30, 2016 at 9:11 p.m.
    Thank you Jeff for this very informative "digital test drive" of Exposure X. By your commentary, it is very understandable how one can be easily addicted and get "Lost in Space". I am definitely going to take my own test drive. Thank you again!
  1. Jeff Wignall commented on: July 1, 2016 at 2:49 a.m.
    Thanks Kathie. I'm glad you took the time to look at this page! I think you'll have fun playing with the trial--and you get it free for a month. It's kind of fascinating to be able to re-invent your images so easily and in so many ways.

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