Home How-To Tip Of The Week Create Crazy Color Film Effects - 1/12/09
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Monday, January 12, 2009

Create Crazy Color Film Effects - 1/12/09

Computer-based cross-processing emulates darkroom technique

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Tip o the weekA decade ago, in the pre-dawn light of the digital revolution, creative photographers were utilizing every method under the sun to keep their images from getting stale. One of the most popular color techniques in fashion, advertising and commercial photography was the art of cross processing—developing color print film (c-41) in slide chemistry (E-6), or vice versa. Doing it right involved lots of exposure adjustments, a bit of trial and error, and considerable amounts of prayer and finger crossing. Now there’s no need for that, since you can do it all digitally after an image is made.

Since there are few rules about how a cross-processed image is supposed to look, you’re free to experiment with whatever wildly colored image effects you’d like. There’s no right and wrong, but there are some common traits to popular cross-processed film looks. One of them, which has a bit of an off-color super-saturated look, is achieved this way.

First, after saving your photo to a new working file, duplicate the image onto a new layer. Open the curves controls—where almost all of this effect is created—and select only the red channel. Darken the shadows and brighten the highlights of the red channel by dragging the bottom left point of curve to the right, and the top right point of the curve to the left. You’re effectively making it look contrastier. You can also add points to the curve and create an S shape to accentuate the effect.

Tip o the weekNext, still in the curves control, isolate the green channel and boost the contrast with another S curve shape. Concentrate on boosting contrast in the highlights of this channel. Then isolate the blue channel in the curves palette and drag the top right point down and the bottom left point up. This will lose detail in the shadows of the blue channel—part of the distinct look of a cross-processed photo. Apply these changes to the curves and you’re 99 percent of the way to a cross-processed photograph.

Now you’ve got a decision to make: do you like the blown out highlights that are often indicative of cross processing, or would you like to moderate the effect and bring it back to a more reasonable look? To eliminate some of the blown out highlights but keep the crazy color effects, change the layer blending mode to Color and you’ll go back to the original layer’s luminosity, but keep the cross-processed layer’s color effects.

If you like the blown out highlights and extra contrast and you want to boost it, duplicate the adjusted layer and set its blending mode to overlay. This will probably be a bit too contrasty, but you can tone it down with an adjustment to the layer opacity as well.

For finishing touches, consider upping the saturation of the flattened photo to really take it over the top. If the saturation is good, but you’re not quite happy enough with the quirkiness of the color, create a new layer and fill it with yellow or red or green. Set the layer mode to Soft Light (or experiment with other modes) and adjust the opacity to give the telltale color cast of a real chemically made cross processed film look.

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