Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review: Alien Skin Snap Art 4 (Or, How Editing Photographs Became Fun Again)

I don't like post-processing my photographs. It's just not fun. The thought of spending hours and hours in front of a computer just isn't appealing to me. But it's a necessary part of photography as art.

Back in the days of film I did get some enjoyment from working in the lab, with all of the chemicals and such. There is something fascinating about watching an image appear as if by magic on paper in the developer. Those days, however, are long gone. The darkroom is now digital. And it's simply not fun.

The software that I use to post-process my photographs is Alien Skin's Exposure 7, which allows me to quickly and accurately achieve the look that I want. It has literally saved me days of sitting in front of a computer tweaking images. The less time spent post-processing the better. That time can be spent doing other things, like capturing photographs or spending time with my family.
McWay Falls
Recently I purchased a new lens for my Nikon D3300 DSLR. When the box arrived, like a kid at Christmas, I tore open the package, placed the lens on my camera, and began snapping photographs of everything in sight. One of the exposures was of some red carnation flowers that we had in the house. It was night and the room was dark. I didn't want to go higher than ISO 3200 because that's the practical high-ISO limitation of the camera, but the scene (with the largest aperture and slowest shutter for handheld set) dictated the ISO be set much higher or significantly underexpose the image. I chose to underexpose by about two stops.

Normally I would have deleted the frame. But, even though the image was noisy and dark, I liked it. So I edited the photograph, brightening it up and, as best as I could, cleaning it up. However, I was far from satisfied with the final results. It needed something else. It needed to look more like a painting and less like a photograph.

I remembered that Alien Skin has a software called Snap Art 4 that could possibly give me the look I desired. One can download the software for free with a two-week trial, so I gave it a shot.
Red Carnation
Holy cow! I was able to very quickly make an interesting painterly image out of an almost unusable photograph. I was amazed at just how simple and effective the software is. Not only that, but it was fun! I haven't enjoyed editing images this much ever.

I went a little overboard the last couple of days with Snap Art 4. I searched high and low on my computer's hard drive for images that might look good edited with the software. I experimented with different adjustments and looks.

What exactly is Snap Art, you ask? It's a photo manipulation software that makes an image appear as if it were painted or drawn. There are options for pencil, ink, crayon, charcoal, watercolor and oil paint (as well as some other options). There are many different styles to choose from, all of which can be heavily customized.
Sequoia Forest
I found that most of the options look alright, but that oil paint (including impasto) is where this software shines. Alien Skin really nailed the look! I was quite impressed, and I quickly pushed aside my underwhelmed thoughts on the other (non oil paint) effects.

Much like ExposureSnap Art 4 has presets that emulate certain looks. That's a good starting point, although you can make a look from scratch if you'd like. There are a bunch of sliders that allow you to make tons of adjustments. None of it is difficult and all it takes is a little extermination to figure out what everything does.

It took me some time to figure out that you can simply "drag and drop" files that you want to edit into the software. There isn't anything marked "open" so you will want to remember this. To undo something that you didn't like you'll need to use ctrl+z and to redo use ctrl+y.  Other than that I found everything to be pretty straight forward.
Avila Beach
The Snap Art effects can be applied very lightly. This is good if you want a photograph to look slightly painterly and textured. In fact, if you like to "texture" your photos this is a great way to accomplish that. Avila Beach is a good example of this, although the effects can certainly be applied even more subtly than I did for that image.

The Snap Art effects can also be applied very heavily. This is good if you want your photographs to look like an oil painting instead of a photograph. You can make it look as detailed or as abstract as you'd like by adjusting the sliders.

Or you can find middle ground and make the photograph look somewhere in between. Is it a detailed painting? Is it a photograph that looks like a painting? Only you will know for sure.
Pacific Dudes
Another thing that I tried that I thought could be interesting is I made a "painted" version of an image and then layered the original and painted versions together (using a different software). This brings back some of the details and sharpness that were lost in the Snap Art version, yet it still looks hand painted. It's something that I may play around with more in the future. Pacific Dudes (above) and Sailboat Race (below) are examples of this.

While the painting effects can be applied to color and monochrome images (and color images can even be converted to monochrome with the software), they seem to look better with color photographs. Perhaps this is because the vast majority of paintings are color. Black-and-white oil paintings are kind of rare. But monochrome can still look good and it's something you'll want to try.

All of this is very quick--it doesn't take long to achieve the look you want. It's easy to knock out a bunch of images fast. I told you that I got carried away using this software, yet I didn't spend a lot of time in front of the computer. Most of the images required just a minute or two of editing.
Sailboat Race
Who is Snap Art 4 for? Obviously it is for those who like to make their photographs not look like photographs. But even if that isn't your thing, the software might be worth checking out if you like to "texture" your images because it's really good for that. Perhaps (like me) tradition digital editing has become boring and you want to use something more fun. Maybe you just want to do something a little different.

The software is great for making photographs look like oil paintings, or giving subtle textures and painterly effects to images. I found the other effects (pencil sketch, watercolor, etc.) to be so-so, and I think it takes the right image for those to look good.

Alien Skin's Snap Art 4 costs $99, but you can give it a try for two weeks free. That's great, because you can decide for yourself if it's worth the price tag. For me it is, but you may find the price too steep if you don't plan to use it often.

Below are some more "oil paintings" that I created this last weekend using Snap Art 4. Let me know which one's you like best in the comments section at the bottom of this post.
Trees In Yosemite
Zebras And Castle
Tulip Garden
Two Flowers
Yellow Coast
Ice Plant Blossom
Half Dome Reflection
Tree And Half Dome 
El Capitan
Yosemite Falls
Red Chairs In Cambria
Green Hills, White Mountains
Utah's Pavant Range
Purple Flower Landscape
Virgin River Canyon
Morning Window
The Library
The Natural Design
Stone Arch Monochrome
Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

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