XXL Autochrome
Because Elements Just Can't do it on its own!

This XXL Autochrome conversion is the third in a series of tutorials about this instantly recognisable photo look. This tutorial aims to replicate the ‘look’ using Adobe Photoshop Elements with the Elements XXL plugin.

Adobe Photoshop Elements on its own doesn’t have the flexibility or features to construct this ‘look’ 

but the third party plug-in from the Plugin Site expands the capability of Photoshop Elements.

Adobe Photoshop and PaintShop Pro methods can be found elsewhere on this site.

This was the very first practical colour photographic process and was devised by the Lumière brothers in the first few years of the twentieth century.

It brought the recording of colour images within reach of the few rich enough to afford it, but more importantly it brought a view of early 20th century life within reach of later generations.

What You Need for an XXL Autochrome

  • Adobe Photoshop Elements. I’m using version 13 but you’ll need version 11 or later for this tutorial.

  • Elements XXL from the The PlugIn Site. I’m using version 2.54.

  • A suitable image. Since many Autochromes were of still-life or non-living objects which were stationary, this would seem to be a place to start. The sensitivity of the medium was low and exposures could be long. Sunny conditions were often recorded and fortunately this increased the contrast of what was inherently a low contrast medium. There are portraits made in this medium but they show the staid composition associated with long exposures.

What You Need to Know

  • Adjustment Layers
  • Blending modes
  • Channels
  • Filters.

The Autochrome Characteristics

  • Low contrast because the medium was quite thick and the starch grains absorbed much of the light; and the image is viewed by transmitted light. The dyes have degraded during the years leading to a slightly faded look as the dyes used to record the image are the very same dyes which are used to view the image. The original silver from the chemical development of the silver halides in the film remains in the film.

  • A slight lack of sharpness because of long exposure times and subject/camera movement.

  • A grainy texture because the colour filter in front of the recording photographic emulsion was made from potato starch stained in supposedly Red, Green and Blue dyes and the mixture of these grains dispersed evenly. The dyes were red-orange, green and blue-violet. This sequence of dyes leads to red and orange being overly saturated.

  • A slight magenta (purple) cast because the dyes were not perfect and transmitted a range of colours rather than clear cut.

  • Enhanced red and blue saturation, especially red because of the imperfect dyes and the greater sensitivity of the emulsion to blue light.

  • A warmer rendition because many photographers used a yellow to orange filter to diminish the over sensitivity of the emulsion to blue light.

Choosing a Suitable XXL Autochrome image

  1. Autochromes were exposed for a couple of seconds; what you don’t want is a dynamic subject obviously exposed by a high tech camera at a high speed; what you might consider is a static subject or one which just might hold still for a couple of seconds.

  2. Portraits of Grown-ups, still life and landscapes usually figure highly in Autochromes from the days gone by. Sunlit with low contrast is what works well. Reds and blues figure significantly. High tech glass facades might not have the right genre or era but break the rules as you wish.

  3. We spend a great deal of cash of achieving ever finer detail and quality from our digital equipment and more on software which removes noise and pixel degradation, so why introduce a soft, grainy, low contrast image with a colour cast to our repertoire?

  4. In terms of the psychology of imaging the grain is rounded as in analogue film and not square edged as in pixels. There are ‘gaps’ in the information between the grains and our brains work harder to create the missing parts of the image. This is the Gestalt Principle of Continuity.

  5. For my image I chose a shop front at the Crich Tram Museum in Derbyshire, England. Trams were a common transport choice at the start of the 20th Century.

How To
XXL Autochrome

Step One – Contrast Control

It’s always good practice to not work on the original image layer, so duplicate the background layer.

Layer > Duplicate layer

The histogram shows that the image is not too contrasty so we may just get away with the contrast as it is. The curve sits in the middle of the graph and there are no lost pixels at either end. Otherwise Enhance > Adjust lighting > Brightness/Contrast


Finer adjustments can be made using Enhance > Adjust lighting > Curves.

Step Two – Sharpness Control

You don’t need to make the image blurry for an XXL Autochrome; just take the edge off the sharpness. For my approximate 4500 by 3000 pixel image, blurring of 1 to 2 pixels is enough Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Step Three – Grainy effect

You will need to access each of the colour channels in turn (Red/Green/Blue).

Image > Channels > Red and then Filter >Noise > Add NoiseAdd about 30 units to the value.

Image > Channels > Green and then Filter > Noise > Add NoiseAdd about 40 units to the value.

Image >Channels > Blue and then Filter >Noise > Add NoiseAdd about 50 units to the value.

Of course you may decide to make some changes to the suggested values for your XXL Autochrome.

Finally click onto the RGB channel to reveal your work so far.

Step Four – Colour Balance Control

Now we can add a slight magenta cast to the image. Not all Autochromes exhibit this. You may decide to omit this step.

We need to go back to the channels dialogues in turn. In turn select the red, blue and green curves.

Ever so slightly at the centre of each curve, bend ...

  • The red curve up
  • The green curve down
  • The blue curve up

Image > Channels > Blue then Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Curves and bend the blue curve up.

Image >Channels> Green then Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Curves and bend the green curve down.

Image > Channels > Red then Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Curves and bend the red curve up.

Finally click onto the RGB channel to reveal your work on your XXL Autochrome so far.

Step Five – Saturation Adjustment

Now add a saturation adjustment - Enhance > Adjust Colour > Adjust Hue Saturation.

Add about 30 units to the red value and slightly less to the blue.

Step Six – Warming The Image

Not all Autochromes show warming. But here’s how to achieve it.

Layer > New Fill layer > Solid ColourClick the dialogue box OK when it appears.

Choose a warm orange/yellow.

Change the blending mode of the layer to overlay and the opacity to about 35%.

Alternatively, you can add a Photo Layer and choose a warm filter.

And there you have it – an Autochrome.

Here's a side-by-side before and after and a large version of the final image.

You can add ‘damage’ to age the image or a border on your XXL Autochrome – but that’s personal taste and outside the scope of this tutorial.

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