After capture, after retouching, comes the grand finale of color grading. At every juncture on the road to personal style and artistry there are myriad ways in which your fingerprint is left indelible. How a scene is lit, or model dressed or the background employed. But color has a way of shouting a name before the entirety of an image is taken in. So it is of highest import as to how I think through, develop and ultimately grade my work for that final touch.
Alien Skin Exposure is the go-to tool in my kit in order to bring to life the feel and ambiance of my portraits that I had in my head while creating the image. The film presets are a gorgeous replica of their intended and the grain engine in Alien Skin is a great delight on its own. The presets for me are in fact a starting point. They allow for an idea to flourish into greater possibility by narrowing the window of choice. Once an overarching theme in color has been laid down, the true work in detail and subtlety thrives.
I must return to the notion that this remains a part of the fingerprint. How I light someone has a dramatic effect on the color grading. Certain options in tone, saturation and hue will be either highlighted or eliminated in this regard. The choices are further narrowed when skin tone, hair color and wardrobe are thrown into the mix. The final piece of the puzzle is how do I want my viewer to feel when looking upon the image? Color plays a paramount role in this regard. I have several recipes within Alien Skin of combinations of presets and adjustments that I use most often, saved within the program. As I said, the presets are a starting point. It is ultimately my responsibility where it all ends. Adjustments to the presets are necessary for me as it further adds to the notion of placing my fingerprint on my work. Every point along the road must be under my control and tailored to what I envisioned. Alien Skin provides for this in the realm of color grading in ways I could not have imagined before.
Each image has multiple layers of color grading as Alien Skin allows for the implementation of a layer system. This further develops the notion of details and subtlety. This is where it becomes easy to get carried away as there is much room to essentially play around with effect. Each preset has a personal effect on highlights, shadows, black point, white point, vibrance, saturation and contrast. Some presets are naturally contrasty and saturated. All of these things must be taken into consideration with each selection and accounted for while going forward. Moreover, many come with their own Grain profile and must be adjusted or eliminated if the desired effect is not the intent. Some have Overlays and effects built in. When working, I remove all Overlays and turn Grain off. I do not add my grain until after I have sized and sharpened an image for its intended output (Print or Web) and then the image is finalized.
The Grain system for Alien Skin is par excellence! Control over strength, size and placement (highlights, midtowns and shadows) as well as format (35mm, 120 or 4×5) is yet another look into the care for artistic license placed within this software. Even the Grain section has presets dialed in for specific effects if one is overwhelmed as to the amount of options available.
Alien Skin Exposure may be the very last program I use in my workflow but this only underpins its importance in the overall scheme of my art. It plays the crucial role of aiding me in leaving a lasting fingerprint on my work by perfecting the color of my portraits.