Solarization adds a dramatic and surreal look to regular black and white images. Darker shades of grey and midtones stay unaffected, but brighter tones and highlights are reversed into a negative image. It’s particularly effective on bright skies.

You might imagine you need a plug-in to achieve this kind of effect, but in reality you can create it in any program which offers curves adjustments – including Aperture. Aperture is especially good at this, in fact, because of the unique way it can combine multiple curves adjustments with its other tools.

The key to this Aperture solarization technique is understanding how solarization works. It used to be done in the darkroom – a black and white print would be partially developed, exposed to light briefly, then developed the rest of the way. This exposure would normally make the print completely black, but the partial development that’s taken place at this point ‘protects’ the darker tones which have already emerged.

This can be reproduced digitally with a very specific kind of curves adjustment. I’m going to show how it works with this wintry beach scene, below.

Aperture solarization effect

At the moment, my photograph has the makings of a good picture, but it needs a big injection of contrast and drama to really bring it to life.

01 Convert to black and white

Aperture solarization effect

The first step is to convert it to black and white, and for this I need Aperture’s Black & White tool. If this isn’t visible in your tools panel, it’s simply because it’s not been enabled – to display it, click the Add Adjustment button just under the histogram and choose ‘Black & White’ from the menu.

Aperture solarization effect

You can mix the different red, green and blue colour channels to create different effects, but the default conversion (shown above) is fine for this solarization effect.

02 Add a curves adjustment

Aperture solarization effect

Now I need a curves adjustment. Again, if this isn’t visible, you’ll need to open it from the Add Adjustment menu.

03 Your ‘solarization’ curve

Aperture solarization effect

The default curve follows a straight line from the bottom left corner to the top right corner, but here we need a radically different shape. I’ve added a control point roughly in the middle of the curve and dragged it upwards, and then I’ve taken the curve point in the top right corner and dragged it down to the bottom right.

What this does is increase the contrast and brightness for tones in the bottom half of the brightness range, then reverse the tones in the top half so that these become a kind of negative image – and that’s the principle of traditional solarization.