The Sabattier Effect & Beyond with Picture Window Pro



Many famous photographers have produced stunning images using the Sabattier effect – Man Ray is possibly the most successful. By using transforms in Picture Window Pro (PWP) it is easy to experiment with the effect and take it far further than was possible in the chemical darkroom as most experiments there effectively stopped a single application of the effect.


Remember that there are no rights and wrongs in this technique. I lay down no rules, all the pages that follow are demonstrations and suggestions. I leave it to you where your vision and experiments take you. The result is an artistic interpretation of an original, something to remember when viewers criticise. What appeals to me may well irritate you intensely. The same is true of all art. Be true to yourself. Respect others’ tastes, but do not be subservient to them.

Chemical Darkroom

In the chemical darkroom there are two different processes which are often confused as the effects are similar in some ways.


The first is Solarisation – here film is heavily overexposed, causing highlights to reverse and become black. The rest of the image remains normal – even though it is overexposed. Web resources are available which detail and explain the effect more. See references at the end of this article. For our purposes it is a narrow and strong implementation of the same manipulations within PWP used to mimic the Sabattier effect, and can be seen in some of the examples in the tutorial.


The second, the Sabattier Effect, is more interesting to us. In this process a print is partially developed, then is exposed to light, and then returned to the developer for completion of development. As shadows are nearly fully developed at this stage, but the highlights are not, the exposure to light causes the highlight areas of the print to darken in proportion to the amount of undeveloped silver. The brightest parts are most affected and become the darkest while the darkest areas are hardly affected. A negative image is created in the highlights. The resulting image is part positive, part negative. It has strange, but attractive fluid textures and often has outlines around solid objects. Control of the effect is complex – initial paper exposure, initial development time, exposure to light and remaining development all play their part. Success is then a hit and miss affair, with considerable expensive experimentation needed to achieve the desired effect. When the effect is applied to colour images saturation also increases. It’s this process and the extra possibilities made possible by using PWP that I will cover in this article.


In contrast to the chemical process, PWP allows us to finely control the manipulation by showing the effect f small adjustments immediately on screen. We can also apply the effect to a tonal range within the image – and in fact apply it separately to multiple separate tonal ranges at the same time. A further refinement, theoretically possible in the darkroom, but rarely if ever carried out, is to apply the effect through masks – or in conjunction with other image editing techniques. The only limit is really your imagination.


Choice of Subject

I have found that simple images lend themselves best to this approach, but this is a matter of taste – use whatever image you feel will benefit. In selecting an original remember the resultant image is an expression of the Sabattier Effect – not a strong photographical representation of the subject. Often images that are less than perfect (too flat, distracting backgrounds etc.) can be successfully used. Strong colours are not required, but large smooth reflecting surfaces are a real bonus, as are strong, well delineated highlights.


Buildings, cars and motorcycles all provide good subjects. With care more natural subjects such as landscapes and people can also be used. Again the real limitation is your imagination.

The Tutorials

These are designed to introduce the Sabattier effect and then develop it, introducing new ideas and increasing complexity in each step. Each step builds on previous steps.


Each tutorial is designed to illustrate a specific point and the resulting image in the tutorial may or may not be pleasing to you. What is important is that you see and understand from the examples the points that I am making.


I have tried to demonstrate techniques in general and show how they can be applied – not demonstrate how to get the best result out of this image. I strongly recommend that after working through parts of the tutorial, you take some of your images and apply the techniques to them. See what works and what does not. See what changes you need to apply. Investigate the scope of the image that you are working with.


I have started with a monochrome image to introduce the basic Sabattier effect. By the end of the monochrome section you will have a clear understanding of what happens when the Sabattier effect is applied to an image – and how we can develop it further.


The second section of the tutorial uses a colour version of the same original. It relies on your understanding of the monochrome section. While I go into a lot of detail in the monochrome section, in the colour section I only introduce techniques and show their effects. It is up to you to experiment with them, assess what is possible and what is not, what can be combined and what can be left out. I have found that the more complex a manipulation is, the more difficult it is to achieve a pleasing result. In monochrome we have one channel – brightness, in colour we have 3. This increases the possibilities many times as each channel interacts with the others to form the final image.


I have left the RGB section to last. This requires a good feel for colours, how colours are made up from the 3 primary colours, and also how brightness, saturation and contrast changes are carried out using the channels. Manipulating the RGB channels produces very different results to the HSV manipulations – while HSV change generally affect certain tonal ranges in the image, RGB changes generally affect the colour balance of the image, allowing subtle colour shifts – instead of the strong ones usually resulting from the HSV changes.