Solarizing a Print

Solarization involves re-exposing photo paper to plain, white light during development, then completing development. The result is a partial image reversal that causes the positive print to look somewhat like a negative. A successful solarization has an eerie, silvery appearance, often characterized by distinct white or light edges separating light and dark areas. Solarization is most effective with negatives that have a lot of contrast. The effects are mostly seen in the lightly exposed areas (the print highlights) since these areas have a lot of unexposed silver available for re-exposure. Darker areas (the print shadows) have less unexposed silver since they have been heavily exposed already. Additional exposure won’t affect them much. Here’s how to solarize a print:

1. Commandeer two enlargers, preferably side by side.

2. Raise the head of one enlarger to the highest point and close the aperture to its smallest opening. Place a dry towel or paper towels on the enlarger baseboard. Set the timer to 2 seconds.

3. Select a negative that has a lot of contrast and put into the other enlarger.

4. Using a #5 filter to increase the contrast as much as possible, make a test strip to determine the appropriate exposure time. Don’t be surprised if your exposure time is high, since the #5 filter will significantly cut down the amount of light hitting the photo paper.

5. Expose the photo paper as you would a normal print. For best results, use a slightly shorter exposure time (by 10-20 percent) than you would if you were not planning to solarize, i.e. than what the test strip suggests.

6. Place the exposed paper into the tray of developer and agitate.

7. Once the image starts to become visible, remove the paper from the developer. You will get different results depending on whether you let the paper develop for more or less time. Generally, you will keep the paper in the developer for approximately 10-15 seconds.

8. Place the paper on a sheet of glass or the back of a flat tray and squeegee off the excess water.

9. Place the paper on the base of the enlarger that is raised to its highest point, emulsion side up.

10. Expose the paper for the 2 seconds you set earlier.

11. Return the paper to the developer for the remaining time, agitating normally.

12. Finish up the processing as you would any other print.

You will get different results even with the same print if you vary the initial time of exposure, the time spent in the tray of developer, and the time of re-exposure. You should vary these one at a time to vary the end result. Cut down on the initial exposure if your final print is too dark; add to the initial exposure if too light. Use of the # 5 filter results in blacker black areas so you may want to try this with a lower contrast filter or even no filter at all and compare results.

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