Online Article Page


Online Exclusives
Q&A: Brian T. O'Rourke on Cross-Processing
Cross-processing images in Photoshop is a way to create something extraordinary from the ordinary.

cross processing,
Brian T. O'Rourke

cross processing
Brian T. O'Rourke

cross processing
Brian T. O'Rourke

cross processing
Brian T. O'Rourke

Traditionally, cross-processing is the procedure of deliberately processing photographic film in a chemical solution intended for a different type of film. The result is usually saturated images. It was discovered by mistake in the days of the conventional darkroom and C-22 and E-4 chemicals.

Cross-processing in the standard darkroom usually involves one of the following methods:

*Processing positive color reversal film in C-41 chemicals, resulting in a negative image on a colorless base

*Processing negative color print film in E-6 chemicals, resulting in a positive image but with the orange base of a normally processed color negative

Today, software like Photoshop allows photographers to get similar results. Photographer Brian T. O'Rourke produces images for homes and offices in this manner. As a painter, he likes working with the process because of its similar qualities to that of a painting. What inspires you and your photography?

Brian T. O'Rourke: My work is driven by an unyielding, innate need for creative release. I could just as easily say creative expression, but I don't think that would be accurate enough. There is truly a mental surge that drives my hand to doodle lines with a pen, my wrist to paint images with a brush, or my finger to depress the shutter on my camera. This can be very hard to explain to someone who is predominantly left-brained, but I think other artists or right-brained individuals can relate. Would you define your work in a particular genre?

BTO: I am just as eclectic in my photography as I am with my other interests. I am equally as fascinated with architectural forms or landscapes as I am with human portraits or animals. My goal is to manipulate the viewfinder to create aesthetically pleasing compositions that otherwise would not have been apparent to a casual observer. There are a lot of cliché images out there, and we are all guilty of taking them, but the real fun comes in creating something extraordinary from the ordinary. Striking geometric forms, bold dramatic colors, and stark variations in light and dark are what I tend to look for. Why do you like working with the cross-processing technique?

BTO: Cross-processing is yet another way to create something extraordinary from the ordinary. It can completely transform an already beautiful, realistic image into a totally new piece of abstract artwork. One is able to create two very different versions of the same image that might appeal two very different audiences. Do you use this technique with slide film, color prints, or in Photoshop? A combination?

BTO: I first learned about cross-processing through modern software [Photoshop] techniques, but I went back and researched its origins in film processing after enjoying the results. I am very eager to try it with film someday. I started off as a digital photographer, primarily due to my age, but I think it's very important that any artist is versed in the history of his or her art form to truly appreciate it. In summary, describe the way you use this process? How many steps? Particular added techniques you've mastered? Tips?

BTO: With modern software, cross-processing can be as simple as a one-click conversion. But I tend live by the old computer programming adage of "GIGO," or "Garbage In, Garbage Out." If you want to end up with a truly striking cross-processed image, then your original composition should stand alone as a great photograph. While there are some instances where cross-processing might make an average image more appealing, it really excels at making good images extraordinary. I tend to play around with tone levels until the underlying image has a lot of stark contrast before cross-processing an image. What is your main photography gear?

BTO: I started out using Canon equipment in the beginning, and it still really can't be beat for accurate and vivid color representation, but I have since turned into a Nikon buff. You can't argue with the quality and features they offer. I still use my trusty D40x most of the time because it's lightweight, versatile and, for the original investment, you really can't sweat knocking it around or worrying about something happening to it. I would love to start working in medium format soon and I look forward to owning a Hasselblad someday. When you shoot, do you shoot for the technique or decide after that you will use it on a particular image?

BTO: I always, always shoot for composition first and good lighting second. After all, I want all my photographs to stand alone as solid images. Therefore, I never take a photograph intending it to be cross-processed later on. As mentioned previously, cross-processing is a technique that can make good images extraordinary. If you do shoot for it, what do you look for as a subject that will lend itself to the project? If not, what is it about an image that convinces you the final should be a cross-processed image?

BTO: The images that have been good stand alone images and also translated into good cross-processed images seem to have a very stark contrast in light and dark areas and also sizable variations in hue. Silhouettes in front of sunrises or sunsets seem to come out beautifully when cross-processed. What does cross-processing add to your work?

BTO: As an abstract painter and photographer, I find cross-processing to be the perfect bridge between my realistic and abstract art. I am able to take some of my best photographs and easily convert them into abstract images that can be blown up and used in modern settings where the original image might not have been a fit. Would you suggest the process to others? Why or why not?

BTO: Definitely. Every photographer has a few favorite images, but they eventually become part of a stable of images in their mind. Cross-processing allows you to completely reinvent and revive images that you might have become complacent with. It's fascinating how some images that you have seen time and time again have new life when cross-processed. Since crossing-processing reached its hype in the 80s and 90s, how do you keep your C.P. work fresh and modern?

BTO: Great images are timeless and the abstract nature of cross-processing is also timeless. Any projects you're currently working on?

BTO: I have recently begun connecting with some of my old classmates via social networking sites such as Facebook and some of them have since turned into clients after viewing my prints. It's always nice to reconnect with old friends, and it's very flattering when they value your work enough to purchase it for their own homes. On the painting side, I am looking forward to being commissioned for a new residential project with an interior designer here in Chicago. I like to keep a balance between painting and photography. Anything else you'd like us to know about you?

BTO: People can learn more about both my paintings and photography at or

Here's a Photoshop tutorial that explains how O'Rourke uses the process: