Photo ideas: X-ray photography effects

How to add a cool X-ray effect to your pictures – all you need to give your photography the ‘X’ factor is a digital camera, Photoshop and some dead interesting objects…

Unless you’re a radiographer, you’re unlikely to have access to a proper X-ray machine for creative photography. That’s a shame, as the results can be beautiful. But don’t despair. Please. Don’t. Despair. You can still apply some of the key characteristics of X-ray photography to your digital pictures for a really striking effect. In this easy project, we’ll give you all the photo ideas you need for creating cool X-ray images in Photoshop.

In addition to a DSLR and tripod, you need:

A ringflash

Not essential, but it does add to the effect. The halo-like shadows and even lighting cast by a ringflash give a forensic feel that perfectly suits the X-ray look.

RAW processing software

Photoshop CS, Elements, Lightroom – or your preferred choice of RAW software.

Interesting subjects

Any still-life subject can be shot with this technique in mind. Natural objects are ideal for X-ray photos – shells, flowers, plant specimens, and the skull we’ve used here – as well as man-made ones such as the classic compact camera above. Keep an eye open for everyday objects from your house or garden to use.

How to get X-ray effects with a ringflash and Photoshop:

1. Set up a simple home studio

For the actual shoot all you need is a simple makeshift table-top studio. Use a tripod with its central column inverted to create a copy stand, supporting the camera between the legs. A piece of white paper or card provides the perfect background, as we’ll be inverting the image later. We also used a ringflash to light our subjects, as it provides an even illumination and creates a wonderful halo-like shadow.

2. Camera settings and RAW processing for the X-ray effect

Shoot in RAW for maximum quality and creative control. We took our shots on a Nikon D700, fitted with a 60mm f/2.8 lens. The camera settings for the skull shot above were Manual exposure mode, ISO 200 1/100sec at f/11. Use your DSLR’s self-timer setting to trigger the shutter, ensuring shake-free shots. Once you’ve uploaded the RAW files to your computer, convert them to black and white, tweak the tones and boost the contrast, then open the image in Photoshop CS or Elements.

3. Convert to a negative

Make a negative version of the image by inverting it. Choose Select>Adjustments>Invert (Filter>Adjustments>Invert in Elements) – or hit Ctrl-i (PC) or Cmd-i (Mac). Your white background will turn black. If you want a white background, shoot your original on black card. Finally, add a blue tint. Do this by adding a solid colour fill layer (Layer>New Fill Layer>Solid Colour) and then changing the blend mode/opacity in the layers palette, or add a Hue/Saturation layer, click the ‘Colorize’ box and adjust the Hue slider.


Like this creative photo project? Now try these:

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