Back in the days of film photography, cross processing referred to developing either negative or slide film in the opposite chemicals: Color negative film (C-41) was developed in slide chemicals, and slide film (E-6) was developed in color negative chemicals. In this tutorial, we’ll recreate the more popular cross process look of developing C-41 as E-6. This effect gives a high image contrast and blown-out highlights with strong yellow and green color casts.
Any image can work for cross processing in Photoshop, depending on what look you’re trying to achieve. This tutorial uses a landscape image, long boat and rocks on beach in Krabi, Thailand by Iakov Kalinin, but portraits can look equally dramatic when a cross processing look is applied.
Step 1: Apply a Cross Processing Curve
Open your image in Photoshop. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves and create a new curves layer. In recent versions of Photoshop, there’s a cross process option in the Presets menu. Choose this as a basic starting point for your image. Don’t worry if your version of Photoshop doesn’t have this option, as you can recreate the effect using the RGB channels in greater variants, as described in the next few steps.
Step 2: Adjust the Red Channel
The basic cross processing effect can be rather harsh, so a little adjustment is needed on the RGB channels. Start with the Red channel and create another curves adjustment layer. You’ll want the Red curve to look like a gentle ‘S’ shape; adjust this as needed for your own image.
Step 3: Adjust the Green Channel
Add another curves adjustment layer and adjust the Green channel. This particular image is already very heavy on green, so a curve has been added to lower the input of the green.
Step 4: Adjust the Blue Channel
Again, start by adding another curves adjustment layer – this time on the Blue channel. Because this is a water scene, the blues are already strong, so a curve has been added to lower the blue input.
Step 5: Burn in Overexposed Areas
While overexposed highlights are a feature of cross processed images, it’s worth taking the time to burn in any of the very overexposed areas using the burn tool. The burn tool increases exposure and darkens the areas where you use it. Choose a large airbrush and gently burn in any areas to balance out the image. Do not burn too much, as you run the risk of altering the color cast of the image.
Step 6: Add an Overlay Layer
Select your entire image and copy and paste to make a new layer. Now change your layer blending mode to Overlay.
Step 7: Change the Opacity and Fill
The Overlay blending mode adds a shine and depth to the image, but can be overpowering if left at 100% in the opacity and fill sections. Reduce both the opacity and fill coverage to 50%, which will give a more subtle effect.
Step 8: Flatten Your Image
Lastly, flatten your image and you’ll have the finished photo. The resulting image will be bright and colorful with a surreal touch — perfect for any creative project that needs vivid graphics.
Looking for more skills to master in Photoshop? Learn how to isolate images using layer masks.