Tips for Cross Processing

Lomo is fun, sassy, sometimes cheeky, and very serious about being interesting and creative!

The Lomography Brand is a bunch of things, but to sum it up, they make “toy” camera’s that take film. Now indeed for some, film is a little bit mysterious.

This how Wikipedia explains film:

Photographic film is a strip or sheet of transparent plastic film base coated on one side with a gelatin emulsion containing microscopically small light-sensitive silver halide crystals. The sizes and other characteristics of the crystals determine the sensitivity, contrast and resolution of the film.

The emulsion will gradually darken if simply left exposed to light, but that spontaneous visible change is too slow and incomplete to be of any practical use. Instead, a very short exposure to the image formed by a camera lens is normally used to produce only a very slight chemical change, proportional to the amount of light absorbed by each crystal. This creates an invisible latent image in the emulsion which can be chemically developed into a fully visible photograph.

So, the low down is – there are a couple of different types of film that each follow certain rules. C41 is colour print film. It is a negative film that when printed becomes positive. It is called C41  because it is processed in a chemistry called C41.

Colour Reversal  film is also known as slide or transparency. It is also referred to as E6, based on the chemistry it is developed in. Colour reversal film is a positive film type.

Black and white film is just black and white. It’s process is based on the film speed and type (Delta 100, TriX, PanF, etc..). It is a negative film that when printed becomes positive.

Lomography has inspired a new wave of photographers who are shooting film. Not only is it super fun waiting for days to get your film processed, but it’s also fun to understand the photographic process and then mess with the rules!

What is Cross Processing?

Cross processing is a technique for C41 and E6, where you process your film in “the wrong” chemistry. (You can’t do this with black and white).

In doing so, you can create some very fun visual effects that programs like Instagram are mimicking digitally.

I want to share a few easy tips to consider when cross processing. (You may want to do additional research if the terms I’m using are unfamiliar).

When crossing from colour reversal (E6) to colour negative (C41), the film tends to pick up density. This means that highlights or white areas will be “blown out” (lacking detail) and shadow areas will be very black and also without detail. The film you use will partially depend on the outcome as well. A contrasty E6 film will become contrasty colour negative. (I worked with one technician who called this “chewy film”). The opposite may be true when you shoot with a more neutral film, such as a portrait film. Sometimes contrast will be the effect you desire and sometimes it won’t be. To minimize the contrast gained in cross processing, you can always “pull” the film back either in chemistry or when you are shooting.

*This is where it can get complicated…

Ex: If you have an iso 100 film, I would rate it at iso 160, then process “as though” it’s been shot at 100 (you don’t need to instruct the lab other than to tell us to cross process). However, you could request that we process your film with a pull process. If you rate and shoot “normally” and want additional contrast, you can ask us to Push your film – or you could “push” in-camera. If you have a 100 iso film, you could shoot it “as though” it were an 80 iso film and then have the lab cross at “normal”. (No push or pull).

When crossing from colour negative (C41) to colour reversal (E6), the film tends to lose exposure and you can end up with almost nothing on your film. Mediate this problem by overexposing your film from 2-4 stops of exposure. Depending on how much light-leak you have in your Lomography camera, the film might already be over exposing itself! Bonus! If you aren’t 100% certain, you can ask us to “push” the film at least 1 or 2 stops in the development process, which will “add light” to the film. Keep in mind that once the film is processed, you should have it scanned where you can play even more with those digital files! Different saturation rules apply with this type of crossing. I prefer a super neutral film (drugstore film is good). Sometimes, when crossing C41 – E6 highlights can pick up pink. To offset this effect, try filtering with an 80A (Tungston balance filter). Play around and see what works best for you!

There is a lot of fun you can have with cross processing. Once you get to learn your camera and what it is doing with your film of choice, you can  bend and play with the rules.

I have posted a few images that were shot with a lomo camera (sorry, I have scant details). Our client wanted the “lomo look” so we took her C41 film, pushed it a stop and crossed it through E6 (Colour Reversal) and got these fantastic results. We love the way the photographer composed these shots and hope we get to see more of her work in the future!

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS ARE COURTESY OF LOCAL SHOOTER CHIMMY LIU. THANKS CHIMMY!