Cross-processing Effects in Photoshop

Adapted from Photoshop Effects for Portrait Photographers (Focal Press)
By Christopher Grey

Dateline: March 10, 2007
Read more Digital Photography tips

Cross-processing, where film meant for one type of chemistry, like E-6, is processed in chemistry meant for another film, like C-41, has been a staple of film photographers for years. When properly done, results looked sort of normal, but with color changes that made them “edgy” and cool.

While I’ve frequently been quite impressed with cross-processed images, I’ve never been happy with the finality of it. Once you commit to the procedure, there is no turning back. Your pictures can never look “normal” again.

With that in mind, here’s my version of digital cross-processing. Unlike the chemical process, which limits the number of “looks” to the varieties of film and developers, variations on my technique are virtually infinite.

To begin, we need to pick one color from within the image to influence its final look, and change a correctly white balanced image to a “tungsten film shot with daylight” look:

Duplicate the Layer.

When film balanced for tungsten light was photographed under daylight conditions, the results had a heavy cyan cast. With your image open, select the Color Picker and type in 00ADEF in the box at the bottom. Click OK and the Foreground color will be Photoshop’s vision of pure cyan.

Use the double arrow on the Toolbox to exchange the Foreground and Background colors

With the Eyedropper, select the color found in a bright section of skin tone. If you’re working on a still life or other nonhuman image, pick a color that you’ll be comfortable with.

Go back to the Toolbox and select the Foreground color. When the Color Picker opens you’ll see the exact color you chose. Move the cursor on a straight line to the right to get a stronger hue

Fill the Duplicate Layer (Layer 1) at 50% (Edit > Fill). Select Foreground Color, set the Blending Mode selection in the Fill box to Color, and check the “Preserve Transparency” box.

Alter the Hue and Saturation of the Layer. (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation) Slide Hue to -50 and Saturation to +30.

Duplicate Layer 1 (“Layer 1 copy”) and use Edit > Fill once again. Select Background Color, which will use the skin tone variation chosen in in the earlier step in which you moved the cursor to the right, and the same settings as the step following that.

You can stop here, if you wish, or take it a few steps further by doing any of the following:

• Select Layer 1 copy, slide the Opacity at 65% and set its Blending Mode to Darken (also try Lighten). Call up the Hue/Saturation window and walk the Hue slider back and forth until you find a combination you like.

• Change Layer 1 copy’s Blending Mode to Hue, with an Opacity of 75%. Select Layer 1 and call up the Hue/Saturation window. Walk the Hue slider as before.

• Reselect Layer 1 copy and call up the Hue/ Saturation window and work the slider magic one more time.

The possibilities, as they say, are endless because you don’t have to stop here. Try additional layers in other Blending Modes or go back to the start and choose a different color for your first fill. Try Fill and Opacity percentages different from my guidelines. As with all of my techniques, I encourage you to play and expand on them.

To find the exact opposite of any sampled color, do this:

• At any time in the procedure, use the Rectangular or Elliptical Marquee and draw a small shape on your image.
• Fill that selection with the sampled Foreground color. The Blending Mode should be Normal, fill at 100%, do not select Preserve Transparency.
• Image.Adjustments > Invert to reverse the color.
• Sample the new color with the Eyedropper tool. The new color will show up on the Toolbox as a new Foreground color.
• Select the Color Picker and make note of the color’s number.
• Back up on the History Log and reselect the last thing you did before you drew the marquee. Everything you just did on the picture will disappear but you’ll have the color information you need.

Don't miss the next Digital Photography article on Get the free newsletter in your mailbox each week. Click here to subscribe.

Printed with permission from Focal Press, a division of Elsevier. Copyright 2007. Photoshop Effects for Portrait Photographers by Christopher Grey. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit