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X Ray in PhotoshopA little known Photoshop technique is the x ray process. X ray in Photoshop is a fun way to expose hidden details within a photo. It doesn’t work on any image, but in the right photo, you can use the x ray procedure to pull out layers of detail that can make your photos pop.

What Is X Ray in Photoshop?

X ray in Photoshop is not a single tool or a quick technique. It’s a series of different moves that together work to make a layer of detail transparent to expose the details behind it. Most of the moves you will use can be found in a Photoshop 101 class; combining them together is a more advanced move seen in classes designed for Photoshop experts. There are several different methods for making the technique work. Most of the effects end up being the same; it can thin and “remove” a layer of the photo, such as clothing, in order to expose what’s behind it. It doesn’t work all the time, or in every photograph – those taken with a flash tend to get the best results – but in photos with lots of thin layers, such as:

It’s possible to thin out the pixels in the top layer to show what’s hidden behind it. Whatever it is you are trying to expose needs to be visible on the pixel level in order to remove the pixels in front of it so the hidden image can shine through.

Why Use X Ray in Photoshop

Using x ray in Photoshop is a fun technique that is perfect for a number of different effects. It can do a number of things when done right, and is perfect for:

How to Create the X Ray Effect

This particular x ray effect does not work in every version of Photoshop or on every picture. It does work fairly well in versions of Photoshop between 6.01 and CS2 and shows up hidden details in roughly 60% of photos. This is a fairly simple version of the technique to use that anyone that has spent some time working with Photoshop can learn to figure out. To use it:

  1. Open your copy of Photoshop and select a photo that has an area you want to enhance, or a layer of something that you want to remove, such as a section of clothing to reveal skin or a curtain to reveal the window behind it.
  2. Use either the pen or the lasso tool to select the section of the photo you intend to work on. Depending upon the version of Photoshop you are working with, you may have to play around with how you can select a small area of the photo to work on, leaving the rest alone.
  3. Go the Channel Mixer, or Image Adjustments, and convert the section to Black and White. When asked what type of enhancement you want, choose Infrared. This will turn the section to a very stark, high contrast black and white image that is beginning to show off the details behind it.
  4. Go to the Constant bar at the bottom of the Infrared selection and set it to -55.5. This will begin to up the contrast so more details will be exposed later.
  5. Go to the Exposure setting in Image Adjustments and move it up to 5.88. The section of the image you have selected should now look like a high-contrast black and white image with some very sharp details. Don’t worry that what it is you are intending to remove now looks bolder and more present than what it is you were attempting to remove.
  6. Go to the Filter section in the top toolbar and select “Other”.
  7. Choose High Pass and set it to 80. At this point, you’ll probably start to see some of the hidden image begin to shine through the area you are working on. If you are removing a layer of clothing for example, you’ll begin to see the skin showing through the fabric as if it’s become transparent.
  8. Go back to Filter and select Blur.
  9. Set the blur to Gaussian Blur to begin to smooth out the top layer you’re working on removing.
  10. Play around with the contrast a little bit more until the image appears smooth and you can start to see more details emerging from the background. You may need to up it quite a bit to keep the blur feature from blurring not only the portion you are trying to remove, but also the image behind it. Changing it back and forth will allow you to find the sweet spot where the top layer is blurred enough to be transparent, but the under portion is still sharp enough that you can see it.
  11. Now go to the Levels setting and begin to tweak them up and down until the final details are now prominent and the original layer has faded away. At this point you may want to adjust the color of the section if it appears to look too gray, or you may want to adjust the contrast, the light and shadow or the direction of the light until you begin to get just the right look. Remember that this look is meant to make the top layer, such as clothing, look transparent – not to make it disappear all together.
  12. If the area appears too dark, select the Dodge tool and run it over the area you are enhancing to lighten it up to help further remove the top layer. Once the layer has been lightened sufficiently, switch to the Burn tool and burn only the details you want to bring into focus. This will help to create the effect that the top layer is fading away while the hidden details are beginning to come out.

X Ray Your Photos

The x ray technique in Photoshop is a fun way to create unique and artistic expressions in a number of different types of photographs. Using x ray in Photoshop allows you to remove clothing, reveal hidden details, and create a magical appearance that is sure to draw the eye and impress everyone who sees it. While this technique does require some patience, as well as the knowledge to apply and play with the various settings until you get the results you’re after, the final look is often well worth the effort.

You may find that applying this technique allows you to find details that you never knew or suspected were in a photograph to begin with. Once you begin to tweak and play with the various layers, you’ll also begin to learn how to see what might be hidden beneath the surface, allowing you to be able to pick out those photographs that have the best chance of working well with this technique. Starting to use this technique on a few photos will sharpen your artistic eye and open a whole new world of possibilities for working Photoshop. Give it a try today and see what’s hiding inside your pictures.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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