Saturday, August 1, 2015

Interview With Alien Skin's Jimmy Beech

If you've been following the Roesch Photography Blog at all, you know that I'm a huge fan of Alien Skin's Exposure software. I get the look that I want quickly, easily and accurately. It's hard to quantify all of the time and frustration that Exposure has saved me. Very recently I began using Snap Art, one Alien Skin's other great products.

I had an idea to interview for this blog Alien Skin's marketing guru (or, as he puts it, marketing nerd) Jimmy Beech. So I asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview and he was gracious and agreed. Through the power of the internet, we were able to sit down and have a little Q&A. It turned out to be quite interesting and I'm happy to share it below.

Before getting to the interview, though, I want to give a big shout-out and thank you to Jimmy and everyone at Alien Skin. I'm not one of the big names in photography, and yet I was able to do this interview, and the folks over there took time out of their busy day to make this happen. I really wish more companies had the first-class customer service that Alien Skin takes pride in delivering.

OK, now for the moment you've been waiting for: my interview with Alien Skin's Jimmy Beech.
Glacier Point Infrared - Yosemite National Park, California
Edited exclusively using Alien Skin Exposure 7.
Me: Tell me a little about the history of Alien Skin and how Exposure started. Where did the idea to make "film" presets come from? Were you "film guys" that wanted to carry the look into the digital age? What was the "ah-ha" moment?

Jimmy: Alien Skin Software is a small squad of technical experts. Many of its members are hobbyist photographers who are passionate about beautiful imagery. It's the best damn team for making fantastically accurate software. Everyone is critically minded. Quality is paramount.

It wasn't particularly any single person's interest in photography that started Exposure, but the product grew from professional photographer's chatter at local camera stores and online. Photographers loved shooting with film, and they recognized that digital photography was convenient, but they needed creative tools to provide the looks provided by the various films they used and loved. The team saw a demand for a tool that could do this and decided to look further. From there, Exposure began.

Me: When Alien Skin decides to add a new film preset, what goes into that? Do you study the actual film or prints made from the actual film? How difficult is it to copy the look of a certain film that can then be applied one-click to a digital file? How do you copy the look of films that have been long out-of-print?

Jimmy: Good question.

It's not a simple process to remake film looks accurately, to be honest. There is a lot of fiddling around to make sure that it's just right. Film behavior is different across the board. Some may add a pink tone to skin, and others may make the sky look more cyan. The more you test with a specific film, the more you get to know how it looks, such as where the grain falls and what the contrast looks like.

If the film is findable, we buy as much of it as we can get our hands on. Then, we shoot using test subjects such as bright colored clothing, color checkers, and skin tones. Then, it's off to a reputable film developer where we get back the rolls and scans. From there, we start making the magic happen on the screen.

Once a preset is behaving right, we shoot another set of test shots with both film and digital cameras. Then, we compare the film to the digital files using the preset and make any final tweaks. Sometimes, there's another round of shooting and study. It all depends on how consistent the film is to us.

If the film isn't being made anymore, we research into its origins and classic uses of the film/process. We find photographers who have extensive experience working with them for advice. Then, we cross check any presets we make with real world examples and ask for feedback from specialists.

Me: What are some cool features of Exposure that perhaps are a bit "hidden" and some users may not be aware about? Any tools that users might totally overlook but may be fun to play around with?

Jimmy: I'd suggest a deeper look into Exposure's grain. It can make a huge difference and really make your photos feel like they were shot on film. This is especially crucial when you look at where the grain falls and how strong it appears.

The presets are great to use, easy to organize, and infinitely customizable. What's more is that you can share them in an office, with friends, or you can archive them along with the images for extra safe keeping. If you'd like, you can set Exposure up to use a Dropbox folder, or you can export them to share online. Check out this video if it sounds tough to setup (click here). 

Me: When I think of Alien Skin headquarters, I picture in my mind a big photo lab with chemical baths and enlargers and such, some guys in lab coats carefully studying rolls of film, and some tech guys translating the analogue results into 1s and 0s. What is it really like at Alien Skin?

Jimmy: It's quiet--most of the programmers are writing code, so like most nerds, there are plenty of caffeinated sodas, arguments about Kirk vs Picard, and the smell of Hot Pockets. I don't think I've worn shoes more than a week during the past 5 years that I've been part of the team. We're laid back. Your fingers don't type faster if you're wearing a business suit, ya know?

Me: What can you spill-the-beans about for Exposure 8? Anything new and exciting that you can talk about?

Jimmy: It is certainly going to be exciting. When the announcement for the new version comes out, we'll make sure and broadcast the news loud and clear, so keep connected with our social media feeds. For now, all I can say is 'Wow.'

Me: What Alien Skin product besides Exposure do you think of as something every photographer should own? What makes it such a good tool?

Jimmy: Blow Up--it's a workhorse. You may not use it everyday, but when you do, it's totally worth it. I use it a few times a month, and whenever I do, I'm still amazed by the quality of the resizing it produces.

Thank you, Jimmy! Click here to visit Alien Skin's website to check out all of their different post-processing programs. They offer free two-week trials, so don't be afraid to give Exposure or Snap Art or Blow Up a test spin to see if it's something that you might want to incorporate into your post-processing workflow.

See Also: Get 8 Free Custom Alien Skin Exposure 7 Film Presets!

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