Alternative Processes | Sabatier

Alternative Processes | Sabatier, originally uploaded by brad|gillette.

The Sabatier process is often mistakenly referred to as “solarization.” In actuality, these are both distinctly different processes. Solarization occurs while the film is still in the camera. It results when film is overexposed to the point that the silver halide crystals have been completely saturated with light, which means it has reached “gamma infinity”. When this occurs, the crystals with the most exposure begin to reverse themselves. A good example of this is in a print where while everything else appears normal, the sun is a deep black. The Sabatier process however, is done entirely during the printing stage, with no special exposure of the film necessary. In the simplest of terms, it is when you re-expose the paper with light halfway through the development process. This results in the darker areas of the final print being rendered as normal, while the lighter areas are reversed.

This process requires a few things in order to be successful. First, you need to be printing with a very high contrast paper. Afga manufactured a paper stock that was excellent for this process, and when they went out of business, many photographers gave up on Sabatier altogether. Jonathon Russell has found a way around this. By using his blue-green filtration system, only exposing the paper to blue light gives you the high contrast needed for this process while using standard variable contrast paper. Secondly, you need a developer that creates a very flat image – seems contradictory doesn’t it? I will give you the formula for such a developer later on. The last thing you need is a negative with good tonal range in both highlights and shadows and strong contrast. Now for the process itself.

First you will need to start by making the developer. Here are instructions for producing one liter:

  • Begin by bringing 750ml of water to 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Add 6 grams of metol and let dissolve completely
  • Then add 19 grams of sodium sulfate (a preservative) and let dissolve
  • Add and dissolve 21 grams of sodium carbonate
  • Finally, add the restrainer, 2.5 grams of sodium bromide
  • Once all of the chemicals have been dissolved, add more water to bring it to one liter.
  • Let cool and use undiluted

Now that you have the developer ready, you will need to set up your additional chemicals as usual (stop bath, fixer, etc). You will also need a water bath near your developing tray. Begin by making a test strip of your negative, exposing in five-second increments, using only blue light. Develop this for 40 seconds with agitation, followed by stop bath and fixer at normal times. Now that you have your test strip, choose the exposure that gives you the lightest image while still being recognizable. Now print at this exposure time, once again using only blue light. Develop for 40 seconds while agitating. Now you will need to remove the paper from the developer and place it in the water bath. Rub the paper with your fingers to make sure all of the developer has been removed. It is crucial that the paper is thoroughly washed. Remove the paper from the water bath and place face up on a sheet of glass. Squeegee and blot with paper towel to ensure that there is no standing water on the print. Now take the print, still on the glass, back to your enlarger. Remove the negative and expose with only blue light, testing in 5-second increments. Return to the developer and without agitation, develop for 80 seconds. Follow with stop bath and fixer. Now you will determine your final exposure time. Look for what are called “maki lines” – these will be strong while lines, almost as if they were drawn in, around areas of strong contrast. These are the trademarks of the Sabatier process. Now that you have all of your times determined, go back and process the print. At this time you have successfully created your first Sabatier print! Try to experiment with different negatives and different times in both the first and second exposures to see how changing different factors affect the look of the final print.

– Brad Gillette


4 comments so far

  1. andy on

    sounds like fun!

    *runs home and searches through camera bag for something called film

  2. […] Read how this is done in my tutorial on the Grand Rapids Photo Blog! […]

  3. […] how this is done in my tutorial on the Grand Rapids Photo Blog! This entry was posted in Alternative Medicine and tagged alternative, good, matte, oilcontrol, […]

  4. Abbey on

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to
    say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    After all I will be subscribing to your feed
    and I hope you write again very soon!

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