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What Is Cross Processing?

The color shifts in cross processing occur because film is developed in solution meant for another film.
Cross processing effects can be applied to digital movies, even when film is not used.
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  • Written By: Donn Saylor
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2014
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Cross processing is a photo development technique in which one type of film is processed in the chemical solution meant for another type of film. This process can alter photos by producing startling shifts in color and higher contrasts. There are two main methods of the cross processing technique: a procedure that creates a negative image on a colorless base and a procedure that affects a positive image with the orange base of a traditionally processed color negative.

The early years of the 1960s saw the first instances of photos resulting from cross processing. The Kodak company first recognized the technique as an alternative way to process photos and released instructions with their film that detailed the procedure. Cross processing was first presented to a worldwide audience in National Geographic magazine.

Among the two main types of cross processing, the most common is the processing of color slide film in chemicals traditionally used in the photo development process known as C-41. Since the C-41 solution was not meant for color slide film, the resulting negative has color and saturation changes from the original negative. The precise degree of these changes and the intensity of the color shifts varies by the brand and speed of film selected.

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The other type of cross processing involves developing color print film in chemical solutions intended for the E-6 development process. In standard E-6 processing, an image is produced by the initial formation of a silver image, which is then substituted with a colored dye. When color print film is used in the E-6 chemicals, a different effect results. A positive image appears on the orange-colored base of the negative, greatly altering the colors and contrasts.

Cross processing techniques are widely utilized in photography software. Many of these technological photography tools allow users to enhance digital photos by selecting color and saturation variances. Unlike traditional modes, this approach permits users to select the exact degree of hue and contrast alterations they want to see in their finished photos. There are also photography-centric websites that let users upload photos and apply cross processing effects.

The technique is not limited to photographic film, however. Motion pictures and television shows can also be processed utilizing these types of procedures. The products of such undertaking produce highly stylized programs, with powerful color diffusion and alterations of saturation levels. This overall effect adds to the intensity of the storyline and enhances the cinematography.

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