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January 19, 2004

Cross Processing: Additional Thoughts and Craziness

I posted a couple of days ago about crossprocessing, including a link to some exploratory work of my own that indulges the excesses of the process (to put it kindly). I've since thought about it some more, and found a few more links to interesting stuff.

Though crossprocessing has a very distinct look (which elicits strong positive *and* negative reactions), in reality it doesn't have to call attention to itself that dramatically to make an impact. One of the reasons it's been popular in fashion (and still remains popular among some photographers and video people, despite the claim that it's out of vogue) is because some subtle changes in hue can produce genuinely interesting results. While most tutorials focus on the wackiness of the results, this thread on photo.net (scroll to the bottom to see the best examples) provides some more thoughtful discussion regarding how to get the most interesting effects (look at Craig Magee's stuff toward the bottom...very good).

Eric Milner uses cross processing currently to produce subtly striking motion picture stills...perhaps not as wild and wooly as what most people expect, but still very effective for commercial work and distinctive (look at the color images in the "Faces" section). The effects of cross processing can still be seen in numerous realms; the other day, I saw a Dr. Pepper commercial with Smokey Robinson which clearly employed a color palette that evoked cross processing...in particular, some odd but interesting greens, which provided an appropriately urban and contemporary mood.


One of my very first crossprocessed images.

From a technique standpoint, the experience of most people (and I'd agree with them) is that slide film intended for crossprocessing should be shot and exposed at its rated speed (as opposed to the recommendation by some that it should be overexposed), and that tungsten film produces the most interesting results (something I haven't explored much yet). Note that "best results", though, assumes you want skin tones and colors to vary controllably...I admit that in the past I've pursued more extreme results because of their unpredictability (and I'm admittedly weird in that I actually *like* the cyan cast produced, and have actually told labs *not* to color correct too much).

A more basic point, which should apply well to both extreme dabblers and more cautious types, is that for portraits, cross processing's tendency to blow highlights works really well with caucasian skin...somewhat similar to the recommendation in black and white to overexpose skin tones by 1 to 2 stops. (Of course, if you want a flatter, more documentary style look for your subjects, cross processing is the last thing you want)


Difficult scan, but the skin tones on the print reproduced nicely for this subject.

I alluded to the controversy over Photoshop filters/actions designed to mimic cross-processing, but the irony of any outrage over this approach is that, within the film world, cross processing itself has been looked down on by some for the same reasons...that it's a push-button approach that's too easy and unsubtle. You can make your own judgements, but here's a more thoughtful digital explanation of how to do things in Photoshop, with some excellent visual examples. And whether anyone likes it or not, more and more film is being discontinued, and ironically, the films that remain keep getting better, but as a result, it's been reported that it's harder to get the really desirably crazy effects one used to get from older emulsions.

Finally, I looked around the Web for some cool and random examples of cross processing from the more mischevious corners of the photography community, namely the Lomo/Holga/other random cameras crowd, but there was surprisingly little. Here are a couple of interesting Lomo shots, but in the case of the plastic cameras, it appears that the random distortion and light leaks they get from their cameras produce color tweaks with enough pizazz for them.

Finally, this all begs for a broader discussion of just what lengths people will go to to get crazy/distorted/"artistic" effects from their photography. One of the bigger laughs I got was from this thread on using expired film for distortion effects...lot of interesting tips worth exploring, but the showstopper post for me was this one:

"Think of all the things your not suposed to do with film and try them. I.e. leave it on the back window shelf of a car for a number of weeks, or put it on a radiator so it gets acelerated aging from the high temperature. Leave it in your pants pocket after exposure and wash the pants. This gave me great bubbled effects where the emulsion was atacked by the detergent. Leave it in a biscuit tin with an open container of hydrogen peroxide beside it posibly even at an elevated temperature. Finnaly get a gas hypering kit from luminos and over hyper the film. This should bring up the base fog level to the point where the images will only barely be seen if done long enough."

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I have used cross-processing fairly often so I thought I'd share my experience. As far as exposure is concerned you really want to add that extra stop of light. I shot a couple rolls of film where I didn't do that and they were very clearly underexposed.
It's probably critical to get a very good lab to do the prints if you're doing portraits coz otherwise, you end up with a mess. I've never done portraits doing cross-processing but I read that when people do it they fix the skin tones when doing the printing so that skin tones look OK. From what I can tell from my prints, if you don't tell them labs just print the film doing some averaging so skin tones look weird (or indicate major liver problems ;-)).
I personally love cross-processing as it boosts the colours and the contrast. You can get very stark effects - especially if your camera does have some heavy vignetting (like the Lomo LC-A). See

Posted by: Joerg at Jan 20, 2004 11:11:30 AM

PS: This is my favourite cross-processed portrait:

Posted by: Joerg at Jan 20, 2004 11:15:46 AM

Great examples, Joerg...the Lomo one with the soda can is really amazing, and I like the warmth of the portrait as well.

I'd like to get more of that balance of warm and cool colors in crossprocessing...I just got some tungsten film, and I'll bracket and try your recommendation. I've had mixed results with overexposing...the first image in my post was overexposed 2 stops with Provia 400 and turned out fine, but the second image was pushed in development using Kodak E200 and blew out a bit much for me.

Posted by: Robert at Jan 20, 2004 12:03:32 PM

One stop was always fine with me. I got a very good book - hard to find very good photography books so let me recommend it: The A-Z of Creative Photography: Over 70 Techniques Explained in Full by Lee Frost [it has 70 chapters with different things you can try/should know - it has proven very useful for me and I still use it a lot!] - that recommends heavy bracketing for cross-processing. Tehre's a chapter about CP in there...

PS: The soda can gotta be one of my all-time favourite pix...

Posted by: Joerg at Jan 20, 2004 1:36:37 PM

I love using outdated film, especially with Diana cameras. On top of that, I tend to use Kodak EPY 64 that makes an overwhelmingly blue slide when shot in natural sunlight without filters. The link on my name is an example of an image made using this technique.

Great discussion!

Posted by: R.J. at Mar 4, 2004 10:47:42 AM

[Click]Here are some more examples of cross processing, both neg->slide and slide->neg.

Posted by: Howie at Apr 30, 2004 8:38:13 AM

YOU SAID"It's probably critical to get a very good lab to do the prints if you're doing portraits coz otherwise, you end up with a mess"
i'm really dying to get into cross processing but i'm struggling to get anyone to process my slide films C41 style. do you know of any good places that offer the service in the UK?



Posted by: ben at Jun 8, 2004 12:09:08 PM

I got into cross-processing recently, trying first to figure out what it meant when viewing those pictures. As you mentionned CP examples from the Lomo, I thought I'd share this.

Posted by: alexis at Jun 25, 2004 4:26:49 AM

Is there anybody else out there who does their own cross-processing at home ? - I find that it is no more difficult than "normal" C41 processing, but I keep the developer and bleach solutions away from the normal neg solutions.

My question is: .... does anybody know anything about PAPER cross-processing ? I have a roller transport processor at home, which works OK for normal RA4 processing, and I have recently aquired a job lot of Kodak Ektachrome Radiance paper. I was thinking of testing out a few sheets - maybe using the seperate bleach and fix solutions for C41, rather than the RA4 blix..... Has anybody been down this road before ?


Posted by: Fredrick Smith at Jul 16, 2004 6:57:33 PM

i want to clear this up, is it possible to cross process E-6 film in B&W chemistry? it doesn't seem possible because of the complexity or processing just one color layer. i thought they were 2 totally different developers as well.

Posted by: zach at Aug 24, 2004 11:34:28 PM

I just acquired a TON of out-of-date film in all formats, speeds and types -- mostly E-6 and C-41.

I'd like to turn my Beginning B&W photography students onto doing something creative with this film, and wonder whether anyone knows whether it's possible to develop any of these color emulsions in standard D-76 developer or Dektol chemistry.



Posted by: Geoff at Sep 21, 2004 2:00:55 AM

ita awesome... too very good and very informative

Posted by: sai gokul. r at Apr 17, 2005 7:15:54 AM

as an example of cool and interesting cross-processing done with a lomo, check out this guy's pictures, they're brilliant. and no, it's not me. ;)

Posted by: ilmungo at Apr 18, 2005 6:50:34 PM

I recently shot a number of rolls of Kodak E100G slide film with the intention to cross-process with a push to compensate for exposure (I shot at 100 ASA). I'm seeing a lot of different recommendations regarding how many stops to overexpose. Some say two stops, others one, others say don't overexpose at all. Anyone had any experience with Kodak E100? Recommendations on how many stops to push?



Posted by: Thomas at May 14, 2005 2:58:15 PM

Hi. I was wondering what film did you use to get those colors on the second pic of Anne you've posted. Interesting post. I'D suggest Sam Holden as a crossposs photograph!!!

Posted by: kristi at Aug 5, 2007 12:52:34 PM

Hi. I was wondering what film did you use to get those colors on the second pic of Anne you've posted. Interesting post. I'd suggest Sam Holden as a crossposs photographer!!!

Posted by: kristi at Aug 5, 2007 12:52:47 PM

Thx! :)

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