Wanna bring back the 60s? Here’s a digital reboot of a classic darkroom effect that’s easy to master using Adobe Photoshop Elements
“Oooh, you know how to solarize?” In the early 70s, my friends were impressed that not only had I mastered solarization—the special black-and-white photography effect that transforms photos into wild, other-worldly images by combining positive and negative renderings on the same photo—but also that I had learned it by the tender age of 13. Well, I’m a less tender age now, but I’ve recreated this digital effect using Adobe Photoshop Elements.
In the olden days, solarization required messing up your darkroom a bit more than usual (at least, the way I did it) since the print had 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 color, of my daughter blowing a nice, big bubble.
Convert to black-and-white by going to Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color. (Skip this if you’re starting with Monochrome.)
Get the best black-and-white image you can, and make sure there’s some good contrast. Abrupt changes from dark to light are helpful.
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. Its dynamic range is dark and darker. Another easy fix: 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! No wonder the image is too grey; let’s see what we can do to make it more exciting…
Getting there! Move the white slider left, to where the black histogram abruptly ends. The entire image brightens up, but that’s too bright.
Now take the grey middle slider and nudge 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. You can keep playing, though. At this point, it’s all about experimenting and enjoying the instant feedback on your screen!
And here’s the final result: Groovy, ain’t it?