Homebrew Sabbattier Effect

December 29, 2009 at 2:57 am (Computers, Howto, Photography, Software) (, , , , , )

In photography, the Sabbattier Effect is a technique originally described by H. de la Blanchere in 1859 whereby some of the images tones are reversed. It is also commonly called solarisation. The technique seems to have been ‘invented’ many times over by many different people, the common thread being that it was introduced by inadvertently turning on lights during darkroom processing. After many years, the effect can be created while processing negatives, while creating prints, or in our case, digitally using a computer.

In any event, the effect creates a high contrast look that is especially well suited to architecture and other man-made subjects. In my opinion, the effect does not work all that well and looks rather unpleasant on human subjects and scenes from nature. Of course, given the right picture to begin with, there are always exceptions. Your best bet is to experiment.

Many photo editing software titles include a solarisation filter, however, if yours does not, or if you want more control over the final look I will describe a method for creating the sabbattier effect using only the curves tool and a desaturation filter (ie: convert to black and white).

The first step is to choose your subject, and to convert it to black and white. I choose a picture of the Erickson Building in Penticton BC, that I had cropped square. Here is the original shot:

Now after converting to greyscale open up your curves dialogue. Basically what you want to do here is create a ‘sine wave’ shape. Hard to describe, but easy to show…here’s what it looks like in digikam, including a preview of the result:

This step is wide open to experimentation. Try different shapes and levels on your curves. The more ‘oscillations’ you use in your sine wave, the more pronounced the effect will be as you can see here:

You’ll notice that abusing the curves tool in this way has introduced some colour artifacts back into the picture. Not a problem, just convert to greyscale once again, and that’s about it. Again, experimentation is the key here. Twist those dials and see what you can come up with. Now here’s the final results, first the mild version, and then the more extreme version:

So there it is. Please leave a note if you found this useful or not, or have any other concerns, questions, or comments. Thanks!



  1. sahlgoode said,

    Great tutorial. So simple, and the results can be astounding.

    • Darren said,

      Hey! Thanks man. Yes, it is very simple. Now I need to think up another one!

  2. Lynda said,

    Wow, really interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever use it, but it’s a great tutorial! Can’t wait for the next. 🙂

    • Darren said,

      Thanks! Why not give it a try? One of my friends has been asking about a tutorial on long exposure night shots so that is probably next…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s