This is the final part of this series of articles on using colour grading techniques “borrowed” from the film industry with Photoshop to enhance our photos. Having covered using, hue, saturation and exposure, simulating the time of day, creating the bleach bypass and the teal and orange look, this week we look at one of the most popular looks in photography, the cross process look.
The key to the cross process look is to push contrasting colours into the shadows and highlights. The easiest way to do this is to use a single curves adjustment, on a single channel. As we have seen previously, with each of the curves channels, you can either add or subtract a colour. So, with the green channel for example, if you add green you introduce a green colour cast and if you subtract green you get its contrasting colour magenta. So the image above simply involves pushing the green curve up in the highlights and pulling it down in the shadows (see below).
When you add colours like this, the skin tones will look terrible, so add a layer mask to your curves layer and mask out the skin. However, imho if you remove the cast completely from the skin, the image doesn't look unified. I personally like to reintroduce some of the look back into the skin. Do this simply by reducing the mask density to 50% on the Masks panel.
You are not limited to magenta and green. You can use the blue channel to create a blue / yellow look, with yellow in the highlights and blue in the shadows:
Or use the red channel and that brings me back to the image that started this whole process. If you remember back to the first week, I showed you my first attempt at the world of colour grading photos, before looking into it this more depth and sharing my findings with you. Here it is again:
The problem with the image isn't so much the colour, though they are maybe a little strong. It is the fact that I didn't mask off the flesh tones. We can fix this quickly with the masking technique described for the magenta & green look then push red into the highlights and subtract red from the shadows to get cyan. You can see the effect re-applied (without the vignette) below:
So as you can see, there are no end of possibilities with the cross process look. You can do all of these looks shown here on the inverse, i.e. the magenta / green look with magenta in the highlights and green in the shadows, etc. Or try your own cross process look. The key is to experiment and one thing worth reiterating is that it is far better to apply the look liberally with big colour changes than to make shy adjustments. You can always dial the adjustment back, by reducing the layer opacity on the adjustments.