Film Term:

A technique used much more by still photographers. Cross processing is the use of color reversal film stock to be developed as a negative. A positive print struck from that negative will have strange and rich colors, intense contrast and on overall yellowish hue.

Glossary of Film Terms -
reprinted with permission

Cross Processing in still photography - shooting with E6 (slide) film and then processing as C41 (negative) film - can produce alot of wonderfully interesting effects.

Like Yossarian describes, the negative will have intense contrast. So much so, in fact, that it is not good for the fine detail of a person's expression unless the blown out highly contrasty and grainy look is a part of your desired result. It is, however, unbelievably beautiful to cross process images showing hard and varied textures, or anything else you'd like to see starkly portrayed. Even nature images look amazing and different, although somewhat surreal, using this technique.

Your negs will not always have an overly yellowish hue; different slide films have different effects when cross processed and experimentation is recommended. The colors may range from normal to somewhat strange to completely off the wall, and are almost always overly rich and vibrant. This can help with subtle things like pulling a brilliant blue sky out on a bland gray day, or achieving magic hour shadows in a drably lit situation. Much more fun, though, are the amazing and powerful artsy effects you can get with the overly-brilliant colors produced.

Kodachome and Ectachrome, when cross processed, do lean towards rich and warmer yellows while Fuji slide films (like the cheap and readily available Velvia for instance) can bring piercing greens and blues. The contrast across the board is always extra intense.

And yes, cross processing is also often used in moving picture environments. You can see its effects all over the place, from some of the overly-attempting-to-be-gritty-and-urban commercials on MTV these days, to the occasional hollywood usage (the yellowed and strangely stark Mexico scenes in Traffic can be attributed to this technique, as can those purposeful blown-out colorful scenes appearing in almost all Spike Lee flicks.)

Cross Processing is also a term used to describe combining multiple techniques for direct positive-to-paper experimental photographic imaging. For instance, slathering a canvas with brownprint (a photographic emulsion that can be applied to almost any dry, natural surface) and shining light through a lith film positive directly onto the surface to create a negative image is called cross processing.

Cross processing is (usually) processing E6 slide films in a C-41 color negative process.

This results in some spectacular effects, for one thing, this produces an unmasked negative (unmasked: no orange mask). This results in some very strong colors, compared to regular developing.

Cross processing can be done by just dropping the slide films in the C41 machine (this will damage the chemicals for the C41 process, so make sure you do cross processing as the last batch before changing to fresh chemistry)

Some tips if you want to try cross-processing, and really make the pictures stand out.. This is one of the best ways to do the cross processing technique "by hand"

  • Process the transparency film in a monochrome developer, and push-process it
  • Bleach this in a Ferricyanide bleach
  • Process through standard C41 chemicals.

Films that are not ideal for cross processing:

  • The latest E6 materials
    • Provia 100
    • E100S

(These are not ideal because they give a very strong color cast which is quite hard to filter out)

Films that are good for cross processing:

Most other E6 films, especially the older formulas, such as EPP (Ektachrome), RDP, Ektachrome 200 and Provia 400

Reversed Cross Processing (i.e putting C-41 film through E6 chemicals)

This is a bit more difficult, but can give some interesting results. You will probably have to do some color filtering on the camera to get a satisfactory result. There is usually a speed loss of between three and four stops but part of this can usually be made up for by push processing.

Other processes:

  • E6 - Slide film process
  • C-41 - Negative film process


Some tips'n'tricks I learned from experience:

  • Generally speaking, Fuji films have a stronger color cast than Kodak films, and the holy grail of xpro is the discontinued "red dot" Agfa Precisa, not to be confused with the newer, also discontinued "red diamond" Agfa Precisa. (I still have to try the Lomography and Rollei "xpro" films that supposedly are repackaged Agfa stock).
  • Having xpro film developed and printed on a minilab is really a shot in the dark, btw. The process I prefer is to scan the films myself and then get prints at a digital shop that gives me pretty results.
  • Most of the color cast from xpro derives from the different base color (you can see it in unexposed parts of the negative) they get. For this reason, scanning cross-processed film generally works better if you set your software to "positive" or "slide" and invert the image later. Many scanning programs have an "invert" option already.
  • You can try to correct a bit for that or you can photoshop the original colors into "realistic" color, but honestly, you're better off finding curves and histogram settings that lead to pleasant results without obliterating the characteristics of the film you chose.
  • The most important thing I've learned from experience with xpro is that each film has an "optimal color subspace" where realistic colors are mostly preserved. That's what you should keep in mind when fishing for images and composing. For me, that's where the poetry comes from. Generally speaking, scene colors that more or less match the color cast stand out very strongly, but there are surprises. For example, Astia 100 makes most of what's gray yellow and everything else green, but gives surprisingly realistic results on skin tones. Velvia 100 will make most things pinkish, but green leaves are yellow and whatever is red becomes VERY red, which is good for shooting gardens and the like.
  • I can't rationalize why this happens, but out-of-focus portions of an image show up differently on different film types. In Velvia 100, they appear "liquid", while both versions of Precisa give you a more classical "blurred" out-of-focus effect.
  • Astia 100 behaves very differently from Astia 100F. Provia 100 is highly sought-after, while Provia 100F just makes things green. Velvia 50, Velvia 100 and Velvia 100F are completely different as well, and the same goes for Sensia, Elitechrome, etc. etc. "Red dot" Agfa Precisa is the classic "lomo" film, while "Red diamond" (you have to look hard in the box to find what you're getting, and sometimes you don't know at all when buying on eBay) is really hard to scan -- I can get it to produce beautiful colors, but images become rather low-key and grainy, because I discard about half of the blue channel. OTOH, that gives me a beautiful velvety color in scenes that have super-saturated reds. I've learned to love both; you don't shoot different films the same just like you don't make love to different women the same
  • Lens/film combinations matter. The general behavior of film can be more or less predicted, but there are surprises to be had. Don't be afraid of throwing away slide film into "toy", fixed exposure/focus cameras like Vivitar UWS clones, Action Samplers, etc. once in a while; you'll have a lower average quality in your roll, but might get colors and effects you wouldn't if you were to use a proper camera and set exposure/focus carefully. (But I must stress "once in a while"; slide stock is more expensive, and you'll get better images on average if you adjust exposure correctly.
  • YMMV. This can't be stressed enough. Different people get different results, and there are so many parameters that bringing this down to a science would require ilots/i of time for systematic testing.
  • Xpro is fun. Getting yellow skies or red grass is fun. Have fun. If you need predictability, get Photoshop and/or Hipstamatic; dicking around with alternative chemical processes is really for amateurs hoping to get artistic results. And you just might. Remember David Foster Wallace's dictum: this is water; this is water; this is water.

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