Film Effects

Film Effects

The following effects are traditionally done to film, but they've become popular in digital photography precisely because they bring back the nostalgia of film. They can also separate a picture from a bunch of run of the mill images.


Fujifilm made its mark with the famous Velvia film, endearing itself to many photographers for bright, vivid colors. By far, the best way I've seen to create this look is a very affordable (would you believe $25?) automation script from Fred Miranda ( However, you can do an only slightly less impressive version of the same thing by using the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Just move up the Saturation slider by about 30 percent and then tweak with the Hue Slider (see Figure).

Figure. On the right, Fred Miranda's Velvia Vision provides lots of latitude for tweaking color saturation and extending dynamic range.

Cross Processing

Cross processing is a term used in traditional darkroom photography for processing film of one kind (e.g., Ektachrome) in the chemicals usually used for processing another kind of film (e.g., Kodachrome) or paper. The results can vary quite a bit, depending on the specific combination used, but generally end up looking somewhat like the image in Figure. To apply this technique to your image:

Figure. The original image (left) and the result after simulated cross processing.

  1. If your image has a normal or flat tonal range and quiet colors, you'll probably want to change that. Add a Curves adjustment layer and boost the contrast. At the same time look for areas of tonal brightness you might want to change. If you find any, press Cmd/Ctrl and move the cursor to the spot in the image you want to brighten or darken and click. Then press the up arrow key to brighten or the down key to darken.

    If your image's colors are particularly intense, brighten them with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer by dragging the Saturation slider to the right.

  2. Duplicate the image (ImageMode

    In the Channels palette, select the B channel and choose ImageLevels. When the Levels dialog opens, drag the Shadows slider to the right until it reads "77" then click OK. Then repeat this step for the A channel.

  3. Select the Lab channel. You'll probably notice that your image is quite blue (see Figure). Press Cmd/Ctrl-A to Select All, then Cmd/Ctrl-C to copy the selection to the clipboard.

    Figure. The Lab version of the image after adjusting the A and B channels.

  4. Select your original image and press Cmd/Ctrl-V to Paste the blue Lab image into your RGB image as a new layer. Put the new layer in Overlay mode. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and move the Hue slider until you see the cross-processing colors you want. You'll end up with something approximating a cross-processed image.

Aged Film

There are several filters on the market that will create an aged film effect, but unless you do this a lot, it's probably going to be tough to justify the cost. After all, it's not that hard to do a reasonably credible job in Photoshop. You can see the result of the exercise that follows as it was applied to Paddy O'Connor's photo in Figure. It will work equally well when you want to create an old-fashioned look. To give an image an aged look:

Figure. The picture on the right definitely looks as though it's been around for a while. If you want to make it look even more damaged, you could print it, mistreat it with creases, tears, and scratches, and scan it or take a picture of it.

  1. Duplicate and merge your original layers (of course). Rename the duplicate Aged Film.

  2. Open a Curves adjustment layer. Grab the bottom left of the curve line and drag it up until the whole image fades, especially in the blacks. Then drag the very top of the curve line to the left so that you block up some of the whites.

  3. Open a Color Balance adjustment layer and add a bit of yellow and green. At this point, your picture should look as though it spent a few years in the sun.

  4. Optional: You could also use a Burn and Dodge gray layer to add some lightening and darkening if you're trying to make it look as if some areas of the image had faded from more light than others.

  5. Adding a bit of noise to the image tends to make it look a bit older as well. Before you do that, make a merged composite layer and add the noise (FilterAdd Noise) to the composite layer. That way, you can turn it off, blend it, change its opacity or blur it slightly just to tweak the variations on the age effect.


In the liquid darkroom, one of the all-time classic processing effects was solarization. It was done by giving the image half the development time, flashing the image with white light while still in the developer, then continuing development in the normal way. The result was that the image was half negative and half positive. More accurately, the image was part negative and part positive, depending on when and for how long you flashed the white light. The process for simulating that effect in the digital darkroom is even more flexible, depending on the Blend Mode used, whether you change the exposure of the blended layers that make up the effect, and whether you do about a million other things. Of course, the most important of all these things is the tonalities in the image you're processing. Figure shows the original and the result. The process to create this effect is as follows:

Figure. Although the photo on the left is well-exposed and adjusted, the "solarized" image on the right projects an "artier" feeling.

  1. Open the image you want to solarize and duplicate it. All the steps in this routine will be performed on the duplicate to protect the original.

  2. Press Cmd/Ctrl-J twice to make two duplicates of the image.

  3. Select the top duplicate image (Cmd/Ctrl-A) and copy it to the Clipboard (Cmd/Ctrl-C).

  4. Open the Channels palette and click the New Channel icon. A new Alpha Channel will appear at the bottom of the palette. Press Cmd/Ctrl-V to paste the image into the Alpha channel.

  5. Go back to the Layers palette and select the top layer. Invert it (turn it into a Negative) by pressing Cmd/Ctrl-I. Now add the Alpha Channel to that mask and invert it, too. Choose Select

    As soon as the selection appears on the image (you're still on the top layer, right?) press Cmd/Ctrl- Shift-I to invert the selection (rather than its contents) and click the Mask icon in the Layers palette to add a new mask to that Layer. You'll notice that the mask is a Black and White negative of the original image.

  6. Select the second layer from the top and add the Alpha 1 channel.

  7. Group all these layers and drag the group to the original image. Name the Group Solarization. Your image layers should look like those in Figure.

    Figure. The Layers and Channels for the solarized image for this exercise.


Frankly, the easiest and best method I've found for Solarization is in the Nik Color Efex filter set. You have a choice of either black and white or color solarization and four different methods for each. These filters come in several different sets and edition at different prices; go to for more information.

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