Crossprocessing Thoughts

Two parrots

Around September of 2005, I started thinking that, even though I'm not actively drawn to looking at what others have shot on cross processed film, while there's still film and developing chemicals at ready access, I should try shooting it.

Cross processing, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is where you take the media intended for one process and develop it in the chemistry intended for another. Back before the days of Photoshop, this was an easy way to get abstract artistic results.

Sometimes, you get nothing, because the chemistry is too incompatible, but interesting results can be had when you use processes that are almost alike, but not quite.

The most popular one is shooting slide film and then developing it in the print film chemistry.

When I started shooting it, I would get back machine prints from the developers and scan them. However, once I had my own scanner, I started scanning my own works and that's where I started getting curious.

I have found that the place I take my film to does it quite consistently. The standard advice has always been that it's a very inconsistent process where the results were different every time, but at least where I take it, it's distorted, but if I use the same exposure settings, film, and developing parameters, it is the same every time. I had a theory that the auxiliary elements of the developing solution -- the leached dyes from some films, the preservatives, and such -- had an effect. If they do, the developers I use have them controlled.

The main appeal of shooting slide film and crossing it is that you get very contrasty pictures. However, I found that this contrastiness is gone when you scan your film. What it looks like is really happening is that you get the same degree of contrast, regardless of developing process, from slide film, and that's 1.8. (print film has a contrast of .6) However, when you scan it like a proper negative and print it to standard photo print paper, you are going to end up with exaggerated contrast.

There's also another weird effect going on here. The traditional advice for metering slide film and digital sensors is to tend towards underexposure. When you cross process slide film, you can meter like print film and tend towards overexposure. Plus, because the "look" of crossing is high-contrast, you end up with much more exposure latitude than you have when shooting normally.

Now, there are other things that go on with crossed film. The colors go crazy, for example, in ways that depend on what kind of film you are using. As far as I can tell, the biggest reason for this is that the color developing agents are different, so everything doesn't respond the way they are supposed to.

Also, in slide film, most of the chemical magic to create a grain-free and sharp image lives in the developing chemicals, in print films, the chemical magic is contained within the film base. So you tend to have a different sort of grain than you'd normally get out of the film.

Finally, all negative films are nothing more than the photographic equivalent of a score. The real performance is the results from printing. When I'm shooting slide film, the whole goal of scanning is to get flawlessly realistic results; to match the look of the slide. It's nearly impossible to get this sort of realistic results, even if you wanted to, so often times it is a matter of bringing out the weird colors that are already there in the film.

I found that I really like shooting crossed film. It is analogous to painting with only a few colors on the palette... it forces you to think about what colors things should be, not what they really are.


Candlestick Point and Hunters Point

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