The Post-Process Vintage Revival

April 22, 2013

By RF Staff

The fine-art issue is one of my favorites because on one page we’re talking about historical processes, and on another page, showing how digital technology can produce equally interesting images. Of course, the ideal for some of us is to merge or alternate between the two but there’s no doubt that working with plug-ins, actions and presets can streamline your workflow while giving you the freedom to create your own unique look.

Of course, many photographers create their own presets and actions but with so many permutations and possibilities, why not take a look at what is already available? You can always tweak a preset or change an action to match your particular esthetic.

We’ve pulled together a selection of some of the most effective software applications for creating unique or fine art looks. A few are tried and true while others may be new to you. Either way, this roundup should encourage you to try something fresh and different.

Alien Skin Exposure 4

Alien Skin offers a number of different products for photographers, and one of my favorites is the Exposure 4 plug-in. Based in part on film effects and alternative processes, this easy-to-use software can quickly bring new life to digital images. Various black-and-white and color film effects are based on actual analogue products from companies like Agfa, Kodak and Fuji. On the alternative process side, you can create a faux cyanotype, a wet plate collodion or a calotype, apply vintage effects or Lo-Fi/toy camera simulations. Infrared, Polaroid, split toning and even the recently departed Kodachrome are part of the long list of Exposure 4 options.

Exposure 4 offers adjustment sets for each effect including color, tone, focus, grain, infrared and age. Multiple texture overlays are available. For a truly vintage effect, you can even add dust and scratches. The latter are not digital simulations but taken from actual photographic samples so the imperfections look pretty realistic. An almost limitless number of styles and looks can be generated with Exposure 4 and it’s fun to use, too.

This cross-platform plug-in’s minimum requirements include: Adobe Photoshop CS4, Lightroom 2 or Photoshop Elements 9 or newer. You’ll also need Mac OS X 10.6 or later; Windows users—sorry, no XP—just Vista or later.

A free trial is available and Exposure 4 can be purchased alone or in a bundle with all of their photo products (Exposure 4, Blow Up, Snapart, Bokeh). And be sure to check out Alien Skin’s free Alt Photo app!

Price: $199 alone; $349 bundle  
(discounted upgrade pricing available)

Fundy—Fashion, Skin Smoother Actions

Photos by Theano Nikitas; Top: Before, Bottom: After

Fundy Fashion actions offer a trio of black-and-white effects, including In Vogue (shown above as before and after shots).                                 

We all love free stuff but sometimes you get what you (don’t) pay for. That’s not true with these no-charge downloads from Fundy Software, which offer several software products designed for photographers, including Album Builder 5. Of the free applications, my two favorites are Fashion and Skin Smoother/Soften action sets (a Texture pack and a standalone Image Finder software can be downloaded for free, too).

The Fashion action set consists of eight actions including Snap, which adds depth to an image with a combination of sharpening and Gaussian Blur, four color actions named after the four seasons (summer, winter, spring, fall) and a trio of black-and-white effects, each with a unique look and feel.

Skin Smoother, as the name implies, softens the skin, and works best after you eliminate any large blemishes because the action tends to emphasize imperfections. A Gaussian Blur slider adjusts the intensity and a brush can be used to selectively soften the skin.

Intensity can also be increased or decreased via the opacity setting in Photoshop. It works well and, thanks to the ability to target only the areas that need softening, the finished look can be very natural.

Fundy’s freebies are well worth the short time they take to download and install. Simply provide your name and email address, click a button and you’re good to go. Be sure to try them out and take advantage of the Texture and Image Finder software as well. The latter provides a quick and easy method of finding images on your hard drive.

Price: Free

Kubota Image Tools—Vintage Delish

Photo by Theano Nikitas

Kubota Image Tools’ Vintage Delish presets range from the subtle Tintype Edge (seen on the image above) to less subtle cross-processing effects.

Although not new, Vintage Delish remains on our list of favorites for its wonderful presets and their often clever names such as Fuzzy Faded Memory, Rolling Stone Wash, West Was Won and Mach 1. As with any Lightroom preset, a rollover of the mouse is all it takes to get a preview of the effect.

The Vintage Delish presets run the gamut from subtle washes and toning to high key effects. A handful of presets are a little more extreme and produce a funkier style, particularly some of Vintage Delish’s cross processing effects. Kubota calls this set “modern retro,” and that’s certainly an apt description for a number of these presets but we are particularly fond of the more subtle effects. (Check them out and see which appeal to you.)

If you’re more comfortable working in Photoshop, be sure to take a look at Kubota’s Viva La Vintage Actions. With names like Bleachy Peachy and Time Machine Lens Flare, you’re sure to find more than a few actions to add a special touch to your images.

You’ll need Lightroom 2 or newer (Mac or Windows) for the Vintage Delish presets. Note that although some presets require Lightroom 3, all others work in Lightroom 2 or newer. Also check out the Action Dashboard—it’s free!

Price: Vintage Delish, $39
Viva La Vintage, $109

Pretty Presets—Dreamy Baby; Spring Color, Flare and Haze; Pretty Pastels

Pretty Presets is a small company that, among other endeavors, specializes in developing Lightroom presets. Multiple collections are available and, since Lightroom presets are generally designed to work on RAW files (they render different results on JPEGs), many of these collections have two versions: one for RAW and one for JPEG. This way, there will be no difference between the two formats when the preset is applied.

I worked with three different Pretty Presets collections for this roundup: Dreamy Baby; Spring Color, Flare and Haze; and Pretty Pastels. Although the emphasis in these presets is on soft and pretty, photographers looking for vintage effects or slightly more dramatic looks won’t be disappointed. And, of course, all presets can be customized using various adjustment tools.

© Karlen Kleinkopf Photography; Top: Before, Bottom: After

Pretty Presets’ Spring Color, Flare and Haze collection was applied to this image. It allows you to choose toning and the light direction that best fits your subject and the environment in which the image was captured (as seen here in image on the left) when the Berrylicious--touch of sun preset—was applied.

While Dreamy Baby presets can, of course, be applied to photos of adults, they are designed especially for babies. From the slightly stronger effects of Color Light and Soft & Sweet to the subtle tones of Baby Blue and the lightness of Powder Puff B&W, there are numerous options within Dreamy Baby to suit many photographers’ tastes.

Pretty Pastels, which was just updated to include Lightroom 4 compatibility, offers a range of intensities in its presets. Alabaster and Bluejay, for example, retain colors but images attain a beautiful, ethereal quality when these presets are applied. Another favorite is Mocha Java, which takes monochrome toning to a whole new level with its vintage or alternative process look and feel.

The third collection, Spring Color, Flare and Haze, adds versatility to the presets with the latter two parameters. While flare and haze effects cannot be customized, the presets offer a choice of light direction to select the best fit for your subject and the environment in which the image was captured.

Although some effects may seem repetitive across a few of the collections, there are subtle differences in their default settings. Even so, it’s difficult to choose just one collection because each offers a variety of beautiful effects not found in the others. Multiple collections can be purchased in bundles if you want the broadest range of options. To help you choose, the site provides numerous before and after examples for each collection.

After working with a number of different Lightroom presets, I have to say that the three collections I tested from Pretty Presets are some of the loveliest effects I’ve seen.

Although not all collections are Lightroom 4 compatible, those designed for Lightroom 3 can work in the latest LR version. Step-by-step directions are provided in the FAQ section of the site on how to change the process version in Lightroom so LR 3 presets work perfectly in LR 4.

Price: Dreamy Baby, $38
Pretty Pastels, $37
Spring Color, Flare and Haze, $42

Seims Effects—Silver Shadows 2

Top: Before, Bottom: After

Seim Effects’ Silver Shadows 2 is a well-organized collection of black-and-white conversion presets that range from classic monochrome options like this before and after runway shot to more unusual infrared, Holga and vintage effects.

With more than 100 black and white presets compatible with all versions of Lightroom (1-4), Silver Shadows 2 provides a full complement of options for monochrome conversions. More than a dozen presets are available in each of five categories. For the ultimate in efficiency, presets are sorted into collections according to type of conversion including Silver Classics, Dynamic Silver, Gentle Silver and Hard Silver (which includes Infrared, Holga and Pinhole Vintage effects).

Among the five categories, there are two special collections: Channel Silver and Silver Tints. The former is quite interesting because these Cp presets affect certain channels only, so you can tweak aspects of the image without affecting other settings. And, the Cp presets work equally well on multiple formats including JPEG and .PSD, as well as RAW. Additionally, a sixth collection features a special Utilities set to add and delete various levels of grain and vignettes.

Effects can be easily combined and adjusted. At the top of each collection is a convenient reset option, so you can essentially undo whatever preset you applied from that specific collection without affecting other effects applied during the workflow.

Black-and-white photography never goes out of style but has been trending for a while, especially in fine-art and wedding photography. There are many software options and techniques to perform black-and-white conversions and although I’m a huge fan of Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, Silver Shadows 2 offers a number of benefits—including working directly in Lightroom without having to leave the application—that Nik does not. It’s a tough choice since Silver Shadows 2 is a powerful tool that creates incredibly beautiful conversions, as does Nik’s Silver Efex software.

Be sure to visit the site for a number of free downloads for Lightroom, Photoshop and Aperture, including a sample Silver Shadows 2 set.

Price: $54

Showing and Sharing
You work hard to make the best images possible and you can’t wait to show them off to clients and colleagues. Here are a couple of software applications that are perfect for showing and sharing your images.

Photodex—ProShow Gold, ProShow Producer version 5

Although only available for Windows, ProShow Gold and ProShow Producer are, by far, the most advanced and versatile slideshow software applications I’ve come across. Despite their extensive features and capabilities, however, they have only a moderate-to-low learning curve. (One of my 70- year-old relatives with only minor computer experience turned out mixed media slideshows in record time after first downloading ProShow Gold.)

Both software applications incorporate stills, video, audio and even 3D tilt effects. Extensive built-in editing options add value to the software, as does the ability to customize effects, add captions, transitions, voiceovers and sound effects. And that’s just skimming the surface of these powerful slideshow applications.

In addition to all the features of ProShow Gold, the more expensive ProShow Producer is designed for the professional with its advanced editing capabilities, custom branding, key-framing, masking, adjustment layers, watermarking and HD output. With the demand for multimedia growing daily, PC users will find either Photodex program invaluable. Be sure to download a trial version to see for yourself just how great these slideshow applications are.

Price: ProShow Gold 5, $70 ($45 upgrade price)
ProShow Producer 5, $250 (upgrades from $90)  
ProShow Web, free (from $30/year to create unlimited videos)

Animoto Pro

Just as we were going to press, we received word that Animoto was updating the pro version of its online video software and announcing the new version at WPPI 2013 in Las Vegas. Although limited information was available prior to the announcement, we know that the new pro version now features access to more than 1,000 commercially licensed tracks from Triple Scoop Music’s library. Additionally, the pro version offers new styles created by photographers Tamara Lackey, Vicki Taufer, Vanessa Joy and Rob Adams.

Videos can now be up to 20 minutes in length with the ability to incorporate multiple songs. We’re anxious to get some hands-on time with the new version.

Price: Pro Plan, $21 month/
$249 annually; Pro Premium
$42 month/$499 annually