Special effect in which the lightest and darkest values of a picture are made dark while the middle tones become light.

The Sabattier effect, also known as pseudo-solarization (or pseudo-solarisation), is a phenomenon in photography in which the image recorded on a negative or on a photographic print is wholly or partially reversed in tone. Dark areas appear light or light areas appear dark. Solarization and pseudo-solarization are quite distinct effects. Over time, the "pseudo" has been dropped in many photographic darkroom circles and discussions, but the effect that is meant is the Sabattier effect and not the solarization by extreme overexposure (see below).


Initially, the term "solarization" was used to describe the effect observed in cases of extreme overexposure of the photographic film or plate in the camera.

The effect generated in the dark room was then called pseudo-solarization. Spencer defines the Sabattier effect as: "Partial image reversal produced by brief exposure to white light of a partly developed silver halide image". Many other ways of chemical and actinic radiation "exposure" can be utilised for the partial image reversal. The use of chemicals for image reversal is also known as 'chemical fogging'. Another usable definition is by Wijnekus & Wijnekus: If an exposed, incompletely developed, and washed, but not fixed film is given a second uniform exposure and developed again, a reversal of the original image may be obtained. The reversal may be partial or complete, depending on the relative magnitude of the first and second exposures.


The Pseudo-solarization effect was described in print by H. de la Blanchere in 1859 in L’Art du Photographe. It was described again in 1860 by L.M. Rutherford and C.A. Seely, separately, in successive issues of The American Journal of Photography, and in the same year by Count Schouwaloff in the French publication Cosmos. French scientist Armand Sabatier published 26 October 1860 a process of obtaining direct positives (referencing Count Schouwaloff and Poitevin), but according to the description, this process did not seem to have any connection with the Sabattier effect as no mentioning was made of any exposure of the collodion plates after development had started. The name of the author was erroneously spelled with double "t" and thus the effect is hence known as the Sabattier effect in most literature. Sabatier described correctly the phenomenon in 1862. However, Sabatier could not find an explanation for the phenomenon.

The effect was usually caused by accidentally exposing an exposed plate or film to light during developing. The artist Man Ray perfected the technique which was accidentally discovered the darkroom of fellow artist Lee Miller. It is evident from publications in the 19th century that this phenomenon was discovered many times by many photographers as it tends to occur whenever a light is switched on inadvertently in the darkroom while a film or print is being developed.

Whereas many photographic effects have been researched and explained in such a way that most researchers agree upon them, the Sabattier effect does not belong to that group. In general the following facts are accepted by the community of photographic researchers:

  • The assumption that the Sabattier effect can be attributed to the Solarization effect can be overruled.
  • The opinion that the Sabattier effect is a direct print-through effect of the silver produced by the first development on the below situated layers can not suffice to explain the effect. It has been shown that exposing a photographic layer thru the base also displays the Sabattier effect. Moreover, chemical fogging is also proof that copier effect is only marginal in producing the Sabattier effect.
  • Oxidation products produced during the first development at the developed grains cannot cause a desensibilisation of the unexposed grains.
  • It is difficult to envision that the silver produced during the first development has a desensibilitating influence on the first developed grains. However this point must be further researched.
  • Although with commercial photographic materials the speed of development of the latent image of the second exposure is greater than that of the first development, it cannot be the determining factor for the Sabattier effect.
  • Several researchers assume that the development of a latent interior image as result of the first exposure thus affecting negatively the surface "specks" (also known as latent image centers) caused by the second exposure can partially explain the Sabattier effect. One of these researchers, Dr. K.W. Junge, published an explanation for the Sabattier effect as follows:
  • The photographic material suitable for pseudo-solarizing should have a very low tendency to produce surface specks. This is usually achieved by prohibiting the chemical maturity during manufacturing.
  • During the first exposure therefore almost only internal grain specks are produced. The first development will destroy the tendency to produce internal grain specks so that after the second exposure also grain surface specks are produced. These are only produced on grains which have still no internal grain specks. The reason for this is that during the second exposure electrons emerge which are much faster caught by the stable and big internal grain specks than they can serve to build new and smaller surface grain specks.
  • The second development in a surface developer will now attack those grains which remained unchanged by the first exposure so that an image reversal will occur. The fact that instead of a second exposure electron donating systems (e.g. chemical fogging) can be added to the second developer supports this theory.
also known as
  • Pseudo-solarization
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  • Image by Ralf Roletschek - Own work, GFDL 1.2 — from
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