Lately I’ve been playing around with different methods for getting a cross-processed look in Photoshop. I’ve tried out various quick tutorials and downloaded sample Photoshop Actions to generate the look, and, while those produce nice results, they tend to be a bit more complicated than I need. So, for this week’s tip, I’m going to step through the workflow that I use to create a cross-processed look in Photoshop.
I use Photoshop CS2 for my work, but the steps here will work just fine for pretty much any version of Photoshop. I also use Adjustment Layers instead of actual image adjustments so that I can tweak the settings until I get something that I like. Adjustment Layers also allow me to apply several different variations and swap between them by turning them on and off.
Here’s the base image before any adjustments are applied:
While this isn’t necessarily a bad photo, it isn’t very exciting. It’s kind of dull and lacks punch. It feels too much like a digital snapshot.
This is what I want it to look like:
The contrast and colors in the adjusted version are much more dramatic. The background elements – Tim’s face and the area behind the metal grating – are darkened a great deal, pushing them further into background and bringing more focus to the foreground elements. It has a more film-based look and is much more appealing.
As you read through the steps, keep in mind that you may not necessarily see noticeable changes in the screenshots presented below. Color reproduction is different from screen to screen, so what I see when working in Photoshop may not translate clearly to these smaller screenshots. In fact, some of the adjustments are very subtle and aren’t readily visible unless you toggle between settings quickly.
With a copy of the source image open (always have a backup option), I begin by creating a Curves Adjustment Layer. This can be done from the menubar by going to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. Or you can use the Create Adjustment Layer button at the bottom of the Layers Palette (a black and white circle icon).
When the Curves window comes up, the first thing I want to do is establish the overall contrast and luminance. I reduce the darker tones and increase the lighter tones to create more dramatic lighting. I also want to pin the midtones to maintain the middle range of colors and lightness.
Next I go through and adjust the individual color channels in the Curves window.
For the Red channel, I clamp the darker tones again as well as pin the midtones. This increases the contrast of just the red channel, making the shadows much darker while keeping some red in the visible elements (the table, the railing, and Tim’s hand).
For the Green channel, I keep most of the dark tones where they are, but I brighten up the midtones and I reduce the lighter tones to add a more grennish-yellowish tint to the image.
For the Blue channel, I create a curve that is similar to the main RGB curve. Since there isn’t much blue in the original image to begin with, I want to pull some cooler colors out of the highlights on the salt and pepper shakers to accentuate the metal elements.
I apply the changes for the Curves Adjustment Layer and then add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and set the Saturation to +35 for added punch.
All of these relatively simple adjustments result in the final “cross-processed” image.
I go through a similar process for all of the images that I want to have a cross-processed look. The curves will look different depending on the source image’s colors, but the primary goals are to achieve more contrast, more dynamic colors, and a slight color tint for the overall image. You can experiment with different combinations of adjustments to get a look that is pleasing to you.