B&W Solarization in Photoshop Elements

Groovy "old school" darkroom effect goes digital

"Oooh, you know how to solarize?" In the early 70s, my friends were impressed that not only had I mastered solarization—the special effect that transforms photos into wild, other-worldly images by combining positive and negative renderings on the same photo--by the tender age of 13

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I had figured out a system that created a solarization proof sheet that gave me fine control over the results (if you're interested, I describe this at the end of the article).

Solarization required messing up your darkroom a bit more than usual (at least, the way I did it) since the print has to be exposed to white light in mid-development, and to control that white light I used my enlarger's light.

It's a lot easier in Photoshop Elements. All you need to do is click your mouse and take a magical histogram tour.

Here's the original shot, of my daughter blowing a monster bubble.

Convert to black-and-white by going to Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color. (Skip this if you're starting with Monochrome.)

Now the magic begins! Go to Filter > Stylize > Solarize, and voila! Instant solarization. Well, not quite...

The shot is a bit muddy, with no light tones. Let's click Option-L (or Apple-L on a Mac) to see the image's histogram. Look at what happened! The entire right half is cut off! But the image is too grey; let's make it more exciting…

Move the white slider right, to where the black histogram abruptly ends. The entire image brightens up—too bright.

Now take the middle slider and move it to the right until the image is just right according to your taste. I like it here—an intense look, with rich blacks and a full tonal range.

The final result: Groovy, ain't it?

Now, as promised, as an extra bonus here's the Resnick traditional darkroom solarization test strip technique:

I figured this out myself and I don't know if anyone else did it this way. What I did was actually quite simple: I took an 8x10 sheet of paper, made a test strip (if you ever worked in a darkroom,you know what that is) going right-left, developed it for half the recommended time, squeegied off the developer, took the negative out of the enlarger, put the paper under the enlarger, then using the white light, I made a test strip on the same paper, going up-down. I completed development as usual. Got it?

With the resulting grid, I was able to determine how long to expose the negative, then how long to expose it to white light in mid-development. It worked every time!


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