Bleach bypass

in design

Bleach bypass is a technique used in cinematography to give a film a uniquely contrasted and tinted appearance. Real bleach bypass is a physical process, but it can be emulated with digital filters present in Adobe Photoshop and other tools. Digital bleach bypass techniques are as plenty as the stars in the night sky, but after some long trial and error I settled on a look I like.

1. Pick a photograph. A good image will be right in the middle of the histogram, as highlights and shadows can can be hard to recover. For this one I have chosen a photograph of my fiance’s niece:

Initial photograph of Jade

2. Create a new layer group with Layer-> New-> Group for the bleach bypass layers.

Layer style dialogue

3. Create a black and white layer with Layer-> New Adjustment Layer. In CS3, I use a black and white adjustment layer with a blue filter. In older versions of Photoshop without a black and white filter, the channel mixer in monochrome with 0/0/100 red, green and blue will produce an identical effect.

Black and white adjustment layer

4. Right-click on the black and white layer, select Layer Properties-> Soft Light. This is the core of the bleach bypass look. Your should experiment with different blending modes as every photograph will benefit from a slightly different look.

Soft light layer blending

6. Create a Levels adjustment layer and use the following input settings: 31, 1.31, 198.
7. Create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and drop saturation by 50.

Hue/Saturation adjustment

The final look:

Bleach bypass-processed image

The effect here doesn’t overwhelm, but a bleach bypass effect should be seen as only the start. Here’s the final image after I completed some additional processing:

Final photograph of Jade