Skip to main content

How to Solarize Black and White Photography: The Sabattier Effect

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

The author is a semi-pro black and white photographer who enjoys going into the darkroom and seeing that blank piece of paper come to life.

The Sabattier Effect

The Sabattier Effect

Solarization Photography or the Sabattier Effect

Solarization is the process of re-exposing photographic paper during the development process. The result is an eerie silver image that contains light lines between the shadows and the highlighted areas.

Areas that have been exposed the least are affected the most during the re-exposure of the print. The darker areas or shadows on the prints show little change during the solarization process.

The Sabattier effect is a fairly easy process to achieve and can be done in a few easy steps.


The Process of Solarization

To begin the process, develop and agitate your paper normally. When the image begins to appear, remove the print from the developer and place it into a tray of water for about ten seconds. This will slow the development process.

The next step is to re-expose the paper to light. This exposure should last only about two seconds. The light source should be a low-watt bulb—15 to 20 watts—and should be three to four feet away from the print.

The final step is to put the paper back into the developer for the remaining development time. Complete the process of development using your stop bath, fixer, and final wash.

In order to achieve the desired effects, you may need to experiment with different exposure times. Two seconds is a good starting point, but you may need to vary the tone up or down depending on the print and the type of paper used.

Tips for gaining maximum results.

  • Using high-contrast papers will give you a more dramatic effect.
  • Slow films are easier to work with since they require longer exposure time to develop.
  • Since re-exposure affects the highlights, use a print with a lot of light areas to achieve the most dramatic results.
  • Dilute your developer to twice the manufacturer's recommendations.

Discover Different Layers in Your Photography

By spending a little bit of extra time in the darkroom and experimenting with exposure times, you can turn your black and white prints into dramatic works of art.


Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on March 10, 2013:

I love the Calla Lily image. I have always had a preference to black and white images because of what they evoke. Nice job on your subject.

rustyboi on June 29, 2012:

hey.... i would really appreciate some help here. ive been giving tries to this solarization effect for years, sometimes, rarely, it works alright, but i really can't seem to control it or often, can't seem to even get close to the effect, although ive read tutorials here and there over the years. Thing is, seems like i don't understand the basic principle of it, thus, don't know what step to modify and play around with when i get a result im not satisfied with. do i modify the original exposure? more or less? the time in its 1st dev bath? the time in the water? the time of re-exposure? in the enlarger with no tray or just a lightbulb in my darkroom? should i use bulbs with less watts? or more? damn, there is SO much that could affect the result, if one, as i, don't know truly what does what and how to readjust a step accordingly to get what i want, its a freakin time consuming and expensive effect to use. All web pages ive read explaining on how to get theses great and balanced solarizations all hold different steps, i tried to combine ideas, try this guy's, or this other guy's process, all the same, can't seem to get close to what i want, unless very damn lucky, which is usually 1 out of 20 prints.... Do you relate to this, or have you found THE closest to bein foolproof process? Any ideas, suggestions or general info on this would be highly appreciated. thanks!

kkruger on April 13, 2012:

That last photo, how does one get that effect with the water?

lafenty (author) from California on February 28, 2012:

Thank you for the tip. I will try it out.

DavidPMcCracken from Springfield, IL on February 27, 2012:

I have solarized many prints, and have a little tip I use. I do my second exposure under the enlarger. After I make the first exposure and before I put the print into the developer I take the negative holder out of the enlarger head and set my timer for the second exposure. This makes for a quick trip between developer,enlarger, and back to the developer. Focused light gives a sharper result.

fotocourses from Hampshire, England on February 25, 2011:

Never tried this technique before but love the technque.

Steve 3.0 from Cornwall UK on October 17, 2010:

This makes me want to get back in to the darkroom again, I used to enjoy doing solarization, not the same using digital effects.

lafenty (author) from California on June 05, 2010:

Yes, Androbeta, you are right, I just can't spell. Thanks, I have fixed it.

ANDROBETA on June 05, 2010:

Isn't it called "solarization"? ( or they're not the same thing?

Andria on May 09, 2009:

Lafenty - love the effect! I especially like the last picture.

Thankyou :)

lafenty (author) from California on March 04, 2009:

I wish I could claim them as mine, but I didn't take them. They are beautiful though.

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on March 04, 2009:

wow nice pictures. i specially love the calla lilies - they're gorgeous. thanks for sharing as I love B&W photography :D