Custom Shortcut Key Pitfalls

ShortcutsShortcut keys are powerful weapons to have in your arsenal. They can be used to make selections, zoom, pan, invert–you get the idea. Shortcuts invoke a software operation with the click of a few buttons. Everyone has a favorite or two. Here are some of mine. Some applications allow you create your own custom key-shortcuts. Sound tempting?


Near the bottom of the Edit menu lives “Keyboard Shortcuts.” You can use a keyboard shortcut in order to look through all of the keyboard shortcuts. I thought that was funny and ironic. Here they are: [⌘+⌥+⇧+K] Mac || [Ctrl+Alt+Shift+K] PC



1. You can save your shortcut set to a shared location. If you work on multiple computers or in a team this could be valuable for you.
2. The set name is a little misleading. Go ahead and make changes to the shortcuts if you want. The name will update with a note saying the set has been modified.
3. There are a few different types of shortcuts to explore. Make sure to dig through all of the options. There are a lot of commands in there.
4. The best stuff is located under the Filter menu in Photoshop such as Bokeh, Exposure, and Snap Art. Blow Up is located under the File>Automate menu.
5. Save out a text file [.txt] of the shortcuts for the active set. It might be good thing to save on your Desktop, especially if you make customizations or start in on a project using an unfamiliar workflow (Animation, 3D, etc.)


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Lightroom doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut editor like Photoshop. :-(


Customized shortcuts are designed to save time, but using them may open Pandora’s Box. If you’re the only person to use your computer, or the only person do work on your images, then sure–it could be an added time-saving feature to investigate. If you’re working in a shared environment, or in an office, or on a team, I’d forgo customizations like this. Here’s why:


Some time ago, I spent every waking moment being tortured drafting in CAD. The vector programs that I used possessed a command-line interface. Which is an extremely powerful system that allows for millions of diverse keystroke combinations and shortcuts. Did I mention it looks like a DOS prompt?

A couple of simple examples are copy [C], paste [V], undo [U], quit [Q], and so on. As I came to understand the software more, or when I made a complete mess of my drawing, I would end up needing uber-specialized commands. A few examples are when you want to convert single line text into multi-line text [txt2mtxt], when you’re using Boolean commands with 3D objects [Union, Subtract], or when you’re cursing about line weights before you print [psltspace]. This technical scenario is just like when you’re working in Lightroom or Photoshop, it’s just not as pretty.

Celebrating in my genius for personally discovering customizations, I made dozens of my own shortcuts. Soon after, I was drawing like a boss.

Unfortunately, everything would reset when I updated to a new version of the software, when I got a new computer, or when I worked with someone else on the team. It made my computer the “no-fly” zone of the office. No one could use my fancy shortcuts but me. To make things worse, I was useless when working at other people’s computers. I completely depended on my custom shortcuts. I realized that I had to revert to the clunky, verbose commands that everyone else used. It was a dark day for my ego…

Years, and many therapist visits, later. I got back on my game without needing them. All it took was a little practice. The prescriptions helped, a little. ;-)

It was a good lesson to learn. Custom shortcuts are really useful. They will make some complicated things easier, and they will make you faster, but everything comes with a cost. My advice: Go easy on it. You can start with something simple, such as setting F4 to run Exposure, F5 for Bokeh, and F6 for Snap Art. Whatever you do, keep everyone on your team aware of any changes you make. For me, I’ll stick with the defaults.

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Portfolio Tips from Andrew Foord

Fashion and glamour photographer, Andrew Foord, shares some terrific ideas for building your portfolio. He’s been featured on the blog before, check it his other articles here, here, and here. Andy, I’ll pass the mic over to you.

—–Foord1When you start getting serious about photography, you usually shoot what you have on hand, first. Fashion and glamour peeps, like me, look to family and friends to help build up content. It makes sense. Working with a familiar person is easy to schedule, you’re comfortable with them, and you won’t be afraid to try out new techniques. Eventually, you run out of family and all of your friends have modeling portfolios–that they may not need or want–so you have to step up your game.

What do you do when you want to move up to the next level? Below are a few tips for building up your portfolio.

Foord2Tip #1: Gather A Team

Building up a solid group of specialists is the first order of business. Regardless of the type of photography you do, a team will help you produce better quality work. If you’re shooting people, look for a makeup artist (MUA), a hair stylist, and a wardrobe stylist or fashion designer. If you’re shooting images that don’t involve people, find specialists in your area of interest such as aspiring local chefs for food photography, or passionate fossil hunters for macro shots. I can’t imagine how daunting this task was before the internet. Thanks, Al Gore!

Social network websites literally put thousands of professionals at your fingertips. It’s your cursor, really, but you get the idea.

Facebook, one of the most popular social media websites, is a great place to start. You can search for pages and groups dedicated to hair, makeup, fashion, local food, mushroom hunting, waterfall photography, scuba diving, and more. When you find one that you like, simply post a comment saying you are looking to work with artists in your area.

Model Mayhem is another great resource for people shooters. It’s a place where artists of all types gather in order to work on creative projects. Once you’re signed up, you can post a casting and choose the type of artists and talent you’re looking for. MM is made for bringing together creatives, so if people are your interest, this is a must.

Foord3Tip #2: Take Your Time

This is a concept I still have trouble with! Once you get cranking through editing, it’s tough to pull yourself away, but it’s absolutely necessary. Taking a break during any project will let your eyes and mind relax. When you pause for a time, you come back with renewed perspective. My advice: Zoom all the way out, set things down, and, if you can, sleep on it. You’ll come back refreshed.

Foord4Tip #3: Build A Proper Showcase

Create a website/portfolio. Check out the online portfolios of photographers that you admire. Think about why you like their work, what draws you in, what makes you stay, what you like about the concept or layout, and what you can do better.

Combine the information you gather with the trends in the market. How do you plan to share your work? Do you plan to print your shots or is an iPad sufficient? This will tie in with the type of work that you want to go after. Assuming that you want to chase after paid gigs, of course.

As a final step, make an update plan, too. You don’t want your work to get stale, but you don’t want to update it after every shoot. Balance the amount of work you produce with the amount of time you spend in constructing your portfolio. You don’t want it to become a mindless chore. Always keep your wits about you and ask others for feedback. You’re only as strong as your weakest shot so be willing to listen to constructive criticism.

Foord5Tip #4: Network

Once you have a team, awesome editing practices, and a rock-solid portfolio, you’re ready to show it to the world. You’ll have to use a little savvy in the marketplace to start making waves. You can do this with a number of techniques. Most importantly, learn to make the internet your friend.

Take every opportunity to grow your online presence. You can start by being active on popular photography forums, on Facebook, Twitter, G+, or other social media channels. Connect with every professional, organization, and manufacturer that you admire, and keep up with what they’re doing, too. You’ll find there are plenty of opportunities to have your work featured if you keep your eye out for it.

Paid gigs will force you to perform in a more professional way, so I recommend chasing after work even if photography is just a hobby. When money is on the table, you’ll find that you operate with a renewed sense of vigor. You can offer giveaways, groupons, or discounts to help you get more work, and advertising is an option as well.

Guest appearances are a great way to grow publicity online. You could, for example, guest write articles for the best darn software company in the world. ;-) The larger audience of an established website is a great place to get your name out there. It’s not all about printed magazines, there are hundreds of other places to showcase what you do, or for you to share your knowledge on a certain subject. You can’t pay for that kind of publicity, so it’s worth a little time at the keyboard, or on set, to make up a solid article.


Check out more of Andrew’s work on his blog and website. Follow him socially on Facebook and Twitter.


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Enjoy photography, photo editing, or graphic design and fancy yourself as a wordsmith? If the answer is yes, let’s talk. We are always on the lookout for new articles showcasing your work with our products.

Please include a summary of what you’d like to write about along with a sample of your writing, images, etc. If possible, provide us links to some of your own blog articles or other published work in your submission. Email us at

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Flickr Friday

It’s Friday; so close to freedom. While you daydream about your weekend plans, feast your peepers on these beautiful shots from the Alien Skin Flickr group.

Share your best work with us for our Photo Of The Quarter Award. Wondrous prizes await the winner, like an 85 1.2 or a 24-70 2.8. Details are in the article.

KarenAnnJohn Catlucia

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Superkids Photo Composite Video – Part 1

Just finished up part 1 of a new video series on building a photo composite. It’s a lengthy project, so I sliced it up into smaller, easy to swallow, segments. In this first installment,  I take a bunch of images from a shoot through Lightroom, where I demonstrate my basic workflow for editing the shoot, selecting image candidates, and performing localized adjustments.

The goal of the project is to end up with a great-looking shot accentuated by plenty of creative effects from Bokeh, Exposure, or both. Part 2 is coming soon, stay tuned!

YouTube Preview Image

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Jeff Ascough

I was first made aware of the work of Jeff Ascough back in late 2008. As a Canon Ambassador, Jeff was one of the first people to get his hands on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and put it through its paces. The images he got out of the camera using only available light were stunning and I was really inspired by his purist, photojournalistic approach to wedding photography – zero influence on the day’s proceedings with a focus on composition, lighting and true emotion. Really subtle, beautiful imagery with an emotional yet intelligent aesthetic that was very different to anything else I had seen till then.

Jeff’s work is characterised by his black and white imagery and he is a true master of the digital darkroom. As such, we were extremely flattered to learn that Jeff has recently adopted Exposure to breathe some more analogue soul into his digital files.

In this article, Jeff looks back at his career and provides insight into his search for visual perfection that has led him to using Exposure for his signature black and white prints.

“My love for black and white photography began some 25 years ago when I started working for my parents in their photographic studio. In those days I shot a great deal of black and white studio portraits and would spend many enjoyable hours in the darkroom processing all manner of medium and large format black and white film and making prints up to 30”. At this embryonic stage of my career I also attended a local college for two days a week where my tutors introduced me to commercial darkrooms and the photography of masters like Bresson, Capa, Frank, Klein and Winogrand. My interest in all things black and white was well and truly kindled leading to a passion which has stayed with me throughout my career. My colleagues at the time were into the latest advances in camera technology, whereas I would spend my time with the latest developers and the complexities of the Zone System.


Kodak T-MAX 3200
Click for a larger version

For the first fifteen years or so I developed my own films and printed my own images. I loved the control and the quality but at the start of this century I was shooting upwards of 80 weddings a year; great for business but processing so many weddings myself was becoming unviable. Reluctantly I sent my films to be processed and printed by a third party laboratory, followed by a move to chromogenic black and white film. The quality was passable, but not what I was used to and I spent many hours with the lab working on getting machine processed black and white as good as it could be. Eventually I shut my darkroom down and moved on.


Ilford Delta 3200
Click for a larger version

The move to digital in 2005 was quite a revelation for me. Black and white processing was back in my hands again but with far more sophisticated tools for controlling exposure and density, and the option to make variations of a print quickly and without cost. I took on digital black and white with the same passion that I had in those days of fixers, toners and fibre papers. There was one problem though; getting good black and white prints which kept the tonal range, grain and contrast of film was really tough with digital. Disappointed with the black and white output from RAW software, I ended up making my own black and white actions in Photoshop. Interest in the quality of my black and whites grew and I ended up selling the actions to like minded photographers. Many are still in use today.


Kodak T-MAX 100
Click for a larger version

Although my recipes were reasonably good, applying them wasn’t always efficient given the increasing workflow of a wedding, so last year I started to look seriously at third party alternatives. The current range of RAW software is very good, but to my eye it still isn’t quite there in terms of getting that authentic black and white look that I’d grown up with. I tried several plug-ins from different manufacturers with varying degrees of success but I always found myself coming back to my own Photoshop actions for all my printed images. And then I came across Alien Skin’s Exposure software…


Kodak T-MAX 3200
Click for a larger version

I still remember the first time I used the Tri-X preset in the software. Tri-X is such an iconic looking film and one that every manufacturer tries to emulate usually without much success, but on my screen was an authentic looking image that Exposure had created. This was exciting. However, it is one thing to look at an image on screen but the true test of how good an image looks is when it is printed. A few minutes with our workhorse Canon iPF 6350 printer and a couple of sheets of fine-art paper and I was genuinely blown away by the look of the images. The grain structure was just beautiful. The tonal range was properly compressed like a film negative that had been scanned properly. Just amazing. The Kodak and Ilford 3200 presets are a thing of beauty.


Kodak TRI-X 400
Click for a larger version

I’ve been using Exposure for several months now and it has become my main method of black and white conversion for all printed images. I use it as a standalone piece of software importing the images I want to be converted into it and then adjusting the tonal range of the image to taste. In addition to the grain and contrast, what Alien Skin have got right with the software is the ability to control shadows and midtones effectively. This is so very important with black and white work. The colour presets are also very, very good and this is something I intend to explore as I move through this season’s weddings.

The other thing I love is the vignette option. Again, authenticity is the key here and they seem to have nailed that slightly irregular look that comes with darkroom burning of the print edges.

If you take a couple of minutes to acclimatise to the software, it is actually pretty easy to use. If there is one thing I’m not too keen on it is the selection of ‘gimmicky’ film options and treatments they have as presets. I understand there will be certain wedding photographers who will love them, but I honestly don’t think they add anything to the product for me.

Overall, I’ve been really delighted with the results from Exposure. I guess you could say my quest for the perfect black and white plug-in has come to an end.”


Kodak T-MAX 100
Click for a larger view

Be sure to check out Jeff’s website. There’s a cool new section for photographers where he shares more info on his philosophy and ideas. In the same area, Jeff also gives updates on his workshops as well as providing details on his online critiques where you can have Jeff look through your portfolio and give you ideas on how to improve the quality of your work.

We’re honored to count Jeff as one of our users and look forward to seeing his future work with Exposure!

Posted in Alien Skin Software, Exposure, Photography | Tagged | 4 Comments

Camilo Díez — January’s Flickr Photo Of The Month Winner

I had a little chat with January’s Flickr winner, Camilo Díez. I thought I’d share a bit of the convo with our blog readers.


Camilo is an up-and-coming graphic designer, an enthusiastic videographer, and a writer, too. He’s focused on Visual Arts during his study at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, in Colombia. He’s been getting into fine art photography over the past 6 months. So far, it’s been a love story–he can’t imagine doing anything else.

Camilo also does branding and visual identity work, which are fancy words for logo design. And he co-wrote, directed, and did post work on the short film “Temporada de Caza.” The film has an expected release date sometime in 2014.


The double exposure project came from the inspiration he received while perusing the stunning work of Anna Pantelia and Peter Bialobrzeski. Consequently, that’s where he got the name Heimat. Camilo wanted the portrait to emote as much imposing stoicism as possible, so he prepped the whole shoot as well as the model. He drew out an involved plan to hide some of the models features and emphasize others. It sounds like a tricky process.

Camilo admits that post-production was challenging. He wanted to perfectly merge the two shots and give them a stylistic B&W treatment. Camilo said that the first few steps of the workflow, such as removing the excess blue in the sky, setting the building layer to Lighten mode, and making refinements to the composition, weren’t the most technically difficult tasks to perform. Even though they weren’t hard to do, they did need a lot of artistic finesse before they looked right.

At this point in the workflow, Camilo had results similar to the incredible double-exposure pics of Dylan and Sara Howell, but he didn’t stop there. He took it a step further by using sets of duplicate layers to extract bits and pieces of the structure. Camilo wanted the building to be contained by the model’s head and shoulders as well as reach outside of it. For instance, from the forehead up, he used delicate toning on duplicate layers to work in with the effects on the other side of the head.

After all was said and done, Camilo used Blow Up 3 to resize the shot for his final print. He was amazed by the quality and the image definition that Blow Up rendered. That’s great to hear! We’re proud to say he’s another happy customer. Great little story. Thanks for sharing, Camilo!


Check out more of Camilo’s work on his website and in his Flickr photostream.

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Flickr Photo of the Month – February 2014

alien skin photo of the month

It was a pretty tough job going through the Alien Skin Flickr Group images for the last month and coming out with just one winner. There are a lot of really talented photographers in there, so whittling it down to a single photo was a very difficult task indeed. In the end, this stunning portrait by Eric Fischer came up tops. The lighting, model’s expression and the overall mood of the image, enhanced in Exposure, just really seems to come together to produce a really compelling photograph.

Eric wins our Photo Bundle and an Alien Skin t-shirt for his efforts. Well done, Eric!

If you aren’t aware already, you need to check out the cool prizes we are giving away for the image that is selected as “Photo of the Quarter“. As you’ll see in the article, we’re giving away a really nice lens next month, so get those entries in now!

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Jonas Peterson

Jonas Peterson Exposure

Last week, Australia-based wedding photographer and Canon Master, Jonas Peterson, splashed some details on the special sauce he uses to make his award-winning images. Needless to say, we were thrilled to learn that the sauce in question is our very own Exposure. As Jonas himself puts it:

“No matter what I do to an individual edit, I will finish it off with Alien Skin Exposure. Before that last step, my image will be a work in progress, after, it’s ready to publish or print. Every single one of the images I’ve won awards for have been finished off with Alien Skin Exposure.”

Head on over to Jonas’s article for the full scoop along with a slew of amazing images finished in Exposure:

Jonas Peterson Post Processing Exposure

Alien Skin Jonas Peterson

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Photography Art with Bobbie Goodrich

Well known fine art & wildlife photographer, Bobbie Goodrich, shares her story, and gives you a glimpse into what makes her captivating imagery. She’s been featured on the blog before, check out the article, here.

The rest of this article comes from her. Thanks, Bobbie!

Bobbie Goodrich-Iceland Horse GroupI spent a few years as an oil painter, but Photography eventually took center stage. I believe the purchase of my first digital SLR camera was the culprit. Soon after that came my introduction to software programs for imaging enhancement, which added a whole new dimension to satisfying my creative ambitions.

As a painter,  I acquired a foundation of knowledge and skills to enact my creative vision in the digital darkroom. What I produce is directly related to my understanding of the fundamentals of fine art: composition, design, perspective, color, harmony or disharmony, tonal value, light and shadow and, depth of field, center of interest with soft or hard edges, and more. These principles must be taken into consideration when creating fine artwork regardless of the medium, whether it be sculpture, sketching, painting, or photography.

Bobbie Goodrich-Iceland Sunset Bobbie Goodrich-Iceland RoundupFor me, the discovery and adventure begins in the field. I like to start with a sketchy vision in my head and a camera in hand. I’m a prolific shooter, so the time-consuming job of reviewing and editing can be tedious and demanding. I’m overwhelmed with inspiration when I discover “surprise” shots–those few captures inspirit me to push the boundaries and interpret the subject in a new, creative way.

The real challenge begins in the digital darkroom. I find that this is where I become very intimate with the subject of the photo. It awakens a new facet of our relationship, which continues to evolve as I work to pull them out and make a more compelling image. It’s not an easy process to start with a Raw Capture and maintain the integrity of the subject. You have to be rigidly organized, extremely thorough, and technologically minded as well as free spirited and artistic–in my mind, the polar opposite.

Bobbie Goodrich-Iceland horses Bobbie Goodrich-Iceland HorsepenWhen reinventing an image, the technical process is driven by artistic intuition, which allows the picture to take the lead. I am just the intermediary at this stage. Sometimes it’s less spontaneous, requiring me to stretch the muscles of my imagination. Usually my work is a collaborative effort. I prefer to optimize creative opportunities with the use of innovative software.   Rarely do I apply a filter globally and call it a day. I work in an extremely customized manner leveraging filters, layers, masking, and selections to enact the changes just where I want them to be.

Alien Skin makes unique software programs that I regularly use in my workflow. Thier tools allow me to produce my signature imagery. As stated previously, I usually take a back seat and let the image tell me what to do. For example, if an image feels whimsical, I’ll take it into Snap Art 4. It’s painterly effects such as Impasto or Oil can be infinitely customized, so I start making tweaks until I see the image I envisioned. It may sound hard to do, but it’s fulfilling and a lot of fun.

Bobbie Goodrich - Horse RawAnother one of Alien Skin’s fantastic products is Exposure 5. It always does a great job for me. The photo above is the RAW version of one of my horse portraits. The shot was taken at an annual horse roundup in northern Iceland during a snowstorm. Needless to say, it’s not a shot that I can easily reproduce. I really wanted to show off the falling snow.

I took the shot into Exposure, chose a preset effect from the thumbnails on the left, and I made customizations with the controls on the right. This photo was sharpened, toned, and given texture all with the use of presets inside of the software, so it didn’t take much time to do. I couldn’t be more pleased by how it turned out. Thanks, Exposure!

Bobbie Goodrich - Horse Exposure——

Check out more work from Bobbie on her website and blog.

Posted in Exposure, Fun, Photography, Snap Art | Tagged | 2 Comments

Flickr Friday

Our Thursday Flickr articles have found a new home on Friday. Yay Friday! Plus, “Flickr Friday” just rolls off the tongue a little easier.

Below are some great-looking shots from the Alien Skin Flickr group. Thanks for sharing, everyone!

If you’re interested in acquiring some sweet glass, check out the Photo of the Quarter Award. Your submitted images could win you a nice lens.


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