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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Liverpool is RED! - cross processing.


Hello football fans, I'm sorry, but this isn't about football, and I'm especially sorry to the Evertonians who are currently here seething... but Liverpool is Red!

So why is Liverpool red? Well I took a day trip to Liverpool via picking up some props for the studio, and while it was off the back of the heatwave, so it was refreshing, it was heavily overcast with pure white skies on the most part. In short, most stuff was just a bit 'meh' shot in colour, and those colours were also very distracting on the most part too, but equally the tones were too similar for black and white. The warm white balance for miserable days out of camera is also too warm for my taste in terms of toning across the highs, mids and lows, and I've always found that Canon particularly loves magentas, and sometimes that really aggravates me with skin tones! However, I hate green, so fixing those tones with the opposite complimentary colour, aka green, feels 'urgh' - so you see my dilemma right?

Radio tower in Liverpool

I actually shot and liked this in colour, but after doing some toning on an image that I thought needed it later, I ended up liking it and figured I'd see how it looked as a set with toning across all images. Some certainly worked, and others didn't.

Skies were blown out, and I'm not a landscaper, so I don't do filters, and nor am I ever about to break out a filter for some snapshot street photography, so editing skies down in RAW was the option. It looks too fake and moody. You fix it a bit in post, and then that erks on you as a result, so in the end I just turned to cross processing. Now I must point out, I hate fake editing, so I don't replace skies, and I hate these filters that make images look perfect when all the colours are fake etc - if that's your vibe, and you do it well, cool, but I hate it on my own work, and when it's done averagely to bad on other people's, then it looks truly crap too. There's a massive market in selling LUTs and photoshop actions for this kinda stuff, but what they don't tell you while taking your money, is, they're absolutely useless! Unless you understand them and can create them yourself in the first instance, because of the sheer amount of tweaking you need (given every photo is different), then you need to know your way around them anyway, and then you may as well have taken the required few minutes in creating your own.

Holding a wild pigeon

You can see here I had to pull in the sky loads. I don't mind the pops of colour in this shot, as the DOF and composition steal the show from the colours. Plus, with this shot, I did do a lot of masked editing work to remove some people too close to camera on the left side of the image. It's also not focused where I'd like it, given I was shooting super wide and one-handed, plus the pigeon was facing any which way it wanted.. but none of that really matters as it doesn't take away from the subject matter. You can see the potential problems however regarding toning.. a lot of grey on grey, and high and low contrasts on high and low contrasts.

Where my opinion on editing really gets ambiguous is when it comes to greens and cross-processing over black and white. I think we all accept black and white as an acceptable medium regardless of our opinions on colour processing, and of course back in the day sepia toning was also a pretty standard practice too, so maybe that's a psychological thing? What I do do in terms of fakery though, is, I'll often shift greens to be warmer, but weirdly not necessarily on green objects and clothing, but I do with grass! I rarely like over powering greens in an image, I much prefer summery grass with yellowy red tones, and that's despite not being in to all these fake toned pink trees that you see in modern fashion images where they've colour graded the images with colours that were never even close to being natural in the original. When did 'colour grading' become a term outside of videography anyway? What happened to just editing images?

Anyways, back to the black and white. I remember some editor guy from a video I saw years ago stating how he loved cool blue toning in black and white images, but that's not really for me either, and with these images, I found there was still something missing in the black and white conversion. I mentioned I had already realised that there were little pockets of colours that I was finding distracting from the over-all subject, and in black and white the tones were merging too much, so the answer for me was cross-processing. Cross-processing harks back to the film days, and it basically involved using fluids in processing that didn't match the paper etc, so you'd get some funky results with contrasts and colours. These days, that experiment is a click of a button and a few sliders. Most techniques and tools in photoshop that are considered alien and fake were actually based on real tools from the dark room days, but obviously now we have far more precision and a cheaper platform in which to experiment. As with any platform, though, pro's will learn to manipulate them to with in an inch of their life and create a new monster!

Loads of Pigeons in Liverpool

I loved the chaos of this image, and you could argue that that also applied to the chaos of merging tones too, but it was dull, the colours were distracting in full, and when I shifted it to black and white, the tonal information was still just too too similar for the eye. This ultimately was the reason I cross-processed. I felt It needed it, and having liked a few shots in camera that I had already processed in colour but felt were a bit meh too, I figured it could make for a cool vintage feeling set.

There are some great cross-processing gradients in photoshop these days (maybe that's why). A few years back you had to know where to find them via a sub menu, but on CC they're amongst the other tools.. i actually prefer the old menu! Some are insane and deeply impractical, but they can still be used with slight opacities to just lift contrasts and equalise colours. In my opinion, where they shine however, is that they are great for pulling in the dynamic range of an image while separately emphasising similar tones against one another, and all while making said image look stylised enough that it doesn't feel disjointed. Keep those colours on track with the narrative, or to replicate what the brain is used to from photographic history, ie sepia, and you're left with vintage feeling images. This for me was further emphasised given I had shot a bunch of images in and around the cavern, so I was happy leaning on the Beatles history and vintage vibes of the whole occasion. Here's the first image I ever cross-processed. On the left; cross-processed. Middle; an example of the original colours. Right: black and white. They're all nice shots, but it was the cross-processed version that flew at the time. Ironically, I'm using greeny hues, but it fits with the grungy zombie apocalypse narrative of the gas mask.

Some Liverpool images in colour or black and white:

Now baring in mind that the images here had already been edited to 'fix' what was annoying me (to some degree) prior to me putting on colour toning later, and there are still a few things I don't like. The fact the girl is a little warm, yet there is a greenish hue to the scene while equalising it a little - adding in blue tones made it feel all too cold, and again, I wasn't about to do loads of fake masked off editing on different subjects with in the photo.

In contrast, the 'No Parking' garage I did do a bit of masking because I loved the simplistic pointlessness of the shot, but hated the surrounding building and found the colours distracting, not least the road work fences - those pops of colour were too much, so I subdued as a bunch of it so it wasn't competing with the garage.

The Rock n Rolla had pure white skies while shooting in to the sun, and it's a shame to mute those reds. If ever there needed to be colour, it was this shot! However, boring light, and given the vintage connections as mentioned, I didn't mind going Black and White.

The Krombacher image was originally really 'stodgy' with some hot spots. I probably cooled it down too much.

And finally, on to the great sin! The Rubber Soul bar with a black and white with a colour pop - the highest of all the clichés, but dare I say it, it's what I thought I'd do before I even took the image.


I don't think you can look at these images at a glance and not not feel a nostalgic vintage vibe, even if you never lived through the sepia era.. assuming of course you don't study them too hard, because if you do, then you'll probably see the things that don't add up in that respect, such as the tattoos, as they would have been quite unusual way back when.

So, who wants to buy this photoshop action?

I'm only joking, of course.

Which do you prefer? Do you like the sepia tones, or do you like to keep it real?

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