Nathan’s Famous – Cross Processed

  The deeper I get into film, the more I need to use digital post-processing tools. These pictures could almost  have been taken in 1968. I used a plastic Diana F+ camera. I also used slide film, and instructed the lab to cross process it. That means using the process and chemicals used to develop standard color negative film. This creates a variable and unusual color cast in the resulting images, and is a very old technique. We don’t know, but most people assume it was invented accidentally when somebody used the wrong method on a roll of film somewhere, and then managed to salvage the results. The specific film I used is Velvia, which was not introduced until 1990, and specifically Velvia 100, which has the surprisingly recent introduction of 2005.  I also “pushed” this film by shooting it as if it were ISO 400 instead of 100, because 400 is the only ISO setting that the Diana can reasonably handle.* I then told the lab that I had pushed it and that they should treat it likewise as if it were 400 film. * You can shoot 100 ISO film in a Diana, but only in clear sunlight with no clouds or shade. Now the neat thing about slide film processed normally is that when you get it back from a lab (or if you process it yourself), it isn’t a negative. If you look at a slide, whether mounted or uncut, it looks exactly like the image you want to see. In fact it looks better sometimes, because with its small size the colors and sharpness appear to be off the scale. But cross-processed slide film looks like dreck. It does not look normal, and it does not look like what you see above. It also does not look like regular negative film. Everything is in various shades and tones of a murky, aquamarine blue. So the first thing you wonder is if you should scan it as if it were negative film, and that helps somewhat but does not get you where you need to be. Checking various online tutorials reveals that some people scan it as if it were a negative, and others scan it as a slide, and then invert the colors in Photoshop. I scanned it as if it were a negative, but before running the final scan I used the Levels control in the scanning software to correct the Red, Blue, and Green channels. I also played with the brightness, saturation and contrast to get what I considered the best result for each image, and above you see two of the results. I’m not exactly sure how a lab treats a cross-processed slide to get a decent color print from the blue-toned cross-processed slides. Of course, before digital photography became possible they were not using digital scanning software and Levels controls to manage RGB channels. But they had to do something, because regular color negatives have an orange hue that needs to be corrected when creating prints, and that won’t help on these blue-toned cross-processed images. So the more I expand my use of film, the more I need post-processing tools. Also, the argument that the old film photography masters did as much post-processing as we digital photographers do today, is absolutely right.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Classic look and interesting information Mark! Still sounds like a lot of fun!

  2. Love that you broke down the processing for us. I have not shot film in years, but I would not have considered setting the ISO higher and then telling the lab to process the film as such. This also makes me hungry for a good Chicago dog!
    Chris Nitz recently posted..Weekend Relaxer #6My Profile

    1. Chris, the ISO push was something I learned through research. I’ve seen various digital plugins and filters claim to have a “push processed” look, mostly in black and white settings, but I thought, from the name, that it only involved processing. As I learned, it starts with your ISO setting and the resulting aperture/shutter settings when you shoot. I used film for the first 40 years of my life and never knew you could do that. I wasn’t that deep into photography, but I’m surprised that it never seeped into popular usage more, because it works pretty well. My guess is that consumer labs hated it, and the industry kept it low profile. The old 1 hour color film labs were built to run everything on standard settings and to churn out results quickly.
      It helps to do it with fresh film. All film ages. High ISO film ages faster, and many sources suggest “pulling” old film one stop for every decade. So 10 year old 400 ISO film should be shot at 200 ISO, and 20 year old 400 ISO film at 100. Low ISO film ages the slowest, but loses the ability to be pushed with age.

  3. Terrific post. You’re now making want to try film again…its been so long. I do love the look and the subject…now you’ve made me hungry.

  4. Like the images, Mark. And the write up is great. I’ve never heard of cross processing but the technique sounds familiar. I started pushing Ektachrome back in 1967 when asa(iso) 400 wasn’t enough. I could process it or the labs would do it for an extra fee. The grain was terrible though. Kodachrome couldn’t be pushed and was only processed by Kodak with their secret formulas and all. Used Velvia 50 for a while (beautiful stuff) but never needed to push it.
    Mark Neal recently posted..HDR – The Beach at Little Talbot IslandMy Profile

  5. This is awesome, Mark! Love the shots you’ve produced here, and thank you for all the incredible technical information you’ve shared here! I had no idea of this technique before you brought it to light here for everyone! These are epic shots, my friend, really dramatic and full of great interest!
    Toad Hollow Photography recently posted..Vancouver Island FarmsMy Profile

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