A Dramatic Look Through Cross Processing

I was working on some shots from a recent photo shoot with Model Eight and had one shot that I really liked.  However, after doing my standard model post processing it seemed like it was missing something.  It's good shot (in my humble and biased opinion) so it wasn't like I was looking for a way to salvage a marginal image.  I just felt it could be a bit more dramatic.  After some experimenting with contrast adjustment and B&W conversions, I decided to sleep on it and take a fresh look the next day.  Here's the shot.

The next day I remembered reading about cross processing in the book Lightroom Adventure.  Not happy with anything else I had tried, I thought I'd give this technique a go.   Prior to reading about the technique and seeing some nice results in this book, my thoughts on cross processing conjured up a hokey software preset that usually gets used to make a bad image look even worse.  But, since I wasn't sure where to start exactly, I began by taking a look at Lightroom's presets.  None of them fit what I was looking for exactly.  In fact, they looked rather crappy.  Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.  Well, the more I looked, I decided that one of the presets was close enough to be a starting point.  It was a step in a good direction but it needed serious refinement.  I made some adjustments to the exposure and played around with the colors in the preset's B&W mix.  Colors in B&W mix?  Sure!  The colors are there; they're just converted to grayscale.  Tweaking the underlying individual colors allows you to manipulate the contrast and tone of a B&W image.  After a bit of tweaking, I reached something that I was fairly happy with.  Here's what the original spin yielded.

The change is drastic and kind of an unusual effect for me.  There is a  certain ghostly quality that I like and the image is definitely more powerful that the original in my opinion.  Still, I wasn't sure about this since I'd never done anything like this and I wasn't sure how it would be received.  So, I decided to let some of my photog buddies take a look for some feedback from folks with fresh eyes.  I would sleep on it one more night while waiting for the guys to hack it apart for me.

The next day I got some great ideas from the gang.  There were a lot of good suggestions and I picked the ones that made the most sense to me. It was suggested that the dark shadowing on legs was too much of a contrast with the radiant light on her upper body.  Very true!  I was actually shooting tighter in with a gridded light, so not much light was getting on her legs between light fall-off and her dress blocking it.  I backed up for a few shots when the wind picked up to get some of her dress blowing and I didn't change the lighting to handle full body coverage.  This didn't bother me at all in the original color shot.  Unfortunately, the cross processing effect further emphasized the uneven lighting and gave her skin an odd two-toned look.  Another suggestion was to boost the detail in her face.  The exposure adjustments had left it looking a bit washed out.  I liked the ghostly look but there was some room for improvement.

First, I dealt with her legs by using a Lightroom adjustment brush to bump up the exposure on just the legs.  The auto-mask feature in the adjustment brush made this a quick task.  Next, I boosted recovery a bit to help bring back more detail to her face.  It was still a bit lacking, so I took the image into Photoshop and created a B&W layer with Topaz Labs B&W Effects.  I blended the B&W layer in with the cross processed layer at a low opacity where it needed it.  Here's the final result.

I have to say I'm really happy with the way this one turned out.  It was a lot more work than I bargained for because I was dabbling in a new technique.  The experimentation paid off and I came away with something new that I can stash in my toolbox of post processing techniques.  It's an extreme makeover sort of technique that certainly won't be appropriate for every (maybe not even many) images.  It certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea.  One of my photog buddies jokingly made the comment, "So, that's how you take an image from a $1200 camera and make it look like it came from an iPhone!"  I got a kick out of that and sure, on the surface, it may appear to be a one-click effect.  The truth of the matter is that it took 3 days of thoughtful consideration to produce, along with a lot of slider movement and brush strokes.  The effort was worth it to me.  Of course, there is nothing so subjective as art and whether or not the look is appealing will depend on whose eyes it is seen through.  I dig it.  I hope you do to.  The next time you're stymied by an image that needs "something," give cross processing a try.  It might be the ticket.