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Back in the days before Digital photography there were two methods of processing your photographs. Negatives and Transparencies. These two formats were created using different developing and fixing chemicals. Both had their merits but photographers soon discovered that if you processed a negative film in the chemicals made for transparencies you ended up with a rather eye catching effect on your images.

Day dreaming
Day Dreaming – Matt Preston

Skin tones are more pale, dark areas have a strong blue tint and the image has a higher contrast. It gives the image more punch, often a more surreal look. Compare the above to the version below without cross-processing and you’ll see what i mean.

Day dreaming without cross processing

Cross processing – Digital style!

You can of course replicate this effect digitally so you too can apply it to some of your digital photographs. It’s pretty simple. You can do it in Aperture 2, Lightroom, Photoshop and any other photo editing software where you can modify the “Levels”. If in doubt look it up in the help section of your software.

The premise is simple. You are either increasing or decreasing amounts of red, green and blue from your image. The range of each of those colours, from dark to light can be fine tuned so that you’re adding blue to dark tones and green to light tones, etc. There are a few ways to do this. I personally use the Levels tool to set 5 points to the following settings on each colour.

Cross processing - Red levelsCross process - Green levelsCross processing - Blue levels

You can then set these levels as a preset so you can apply them to images in the future. If you’re using Adobe Lightroom then someone has already created these presets for you! You can download it here.


If you’re using Photoshop or another editing tool or maybe you can’t set the Levels at 5 positions (some only allow 3) then you can always create the cross-processing effect with Curves. They work in much the same way as levels but connect your entire range from highs to lows with a line. You can bend the line to increase and decrease contrast, brightness and tones.

Select just the red from the drop down and drag the top right of the curve to the left. Create two points on the curve so that it forms an S. This will darken the shadows and brighten the highlights.

Cross processing - Red Curve

Select the green channel and create a shallow S curve. This will increas the contrast in the highlights.

Cross process - Green curve

Now Select the Blue channel and drag the curve’s top-right point down a little, just enough to remove some blue from highlights. Drag the curve’s bottom-right point up a little, this will add more blue to the shadows.

Cross processing - Blue curve

Save your settings

Be sure to save your settings if your software gives you that option. Then in future you can quickly apply them to any images you have.


These settings are the be all and end all of cross processing. You can adjust the greens and the blues especially, have a play around and see what works best on your photo. You can also add a yellow tint to your images for a more authentic cross-processing effect but personally I find it a little too much.

While it really compliments some photos, especially portraits, it doesn’t work on every photo.

For more examples of cross-processing visit my Flickr Photostream.

As ever your thoughts and comments are welcome. If you’ve tried cross processing I’d love to see your work so post a link. If you have any advice or experiences with cross processing be sure to let us know.


  1. i really like the first one best 🙂
    she’s gorgeous

  2. The second one now looks for real, that’s why photoshop is such a beautiful tool.

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