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Pushing and Pulling Film

Everything you need to know about Shooting and Developing Pushed or Pulled Film

Pushing and Pulling is a technique of using a different ISO speed than what the film is rated for and can be used on black and white, color and slide film. Because the process can be confusing or be intimidating to start, this article outlines reasons to push or pull and instructions for shooting and developing push/pulled film. We’ve also included tips, photo samples and recommend films types to help you be successful in the pushing and pulling process.


What’s in this Article:
Reasons to Push/Pull | Terminology | Push/Pull Chart
How to shoot push or pulled film > ShootingDeveloping
Photo Examples | Capturing Dark Scenes | Recommended Film | Considerations


An Overview

The pushing or pulling process involves shooting and developing film at a different ISO then what the film is rated for. Let’s say you want to push your 400 ISO film 1 stop (+1), set your camera to 800 ISO and shoot/meter the whole roll as 800 ISO. When the roll is finished, clearly mark the speed on the film canister. Marking the canisters is for your reference in completing the order form and letting the photo lab know how to adjust development time. 


Reasons to Push or Pull Film

Push – Low light and shutter speed not suitable for handheld photos. Low light is this is the most common reason people push. As a guide, when shooting handheld with an SLR, it’s best to keep your shutter at or above 60th of a second. With a rangefinder, you want to stay at or above a 30th of a second shutter speed—for anything lower you should either use a tripod or push your film a stop or two.
Push – Creative effects – Pushing is a fun way to change the look and many people push B&W and color film to get more contrast and increased grain – the more you push it the more contrasty and grainy your photos will be. Color film will have more saturation and possible color shifts.  
Push – An overcast day or the sun is going down. Shoot a 100-speed film and gain two extra stops (+2) by shooting at ISO 400 and develop it at ISO 400.
Pull/Push – You didn’t change the speed on your camera. You shoot 400 film at 100 ISO. Develop it at 400 (+2 Stops) and your photos should come out fine.
Pull – Sunny, bright and high-contrast light. Pulling film reduces contrast and brings out details in the shadows.
Pull – Creative effects – Pulling film mutes colors and flattens image with less contrast.


Terminology and Reference

ISO / Film Speed

Often referred to as film speed, ISO is a measurement of light sensitivity.

Lower numbers represent less sensitivity to light.  “Slow” film (low ISO) is a finer grain film, needing less light but requires a slower shutter speed, while “Fast” film (higher ISO) has more grain, a higher sensitivity to light and can be used with fast shutter speeds.

What is a “STOP”

A stop is a doubling or halving the amount of light let in when taking a photo.

A stop is a common term in photography and important in the pushing and pulling process, especially when you complete the film processing form. 400 ISO film set at 800 on your camera is 1 Stop (+1) under exposure because it’s doubled. But if you put 400 ISO film as 200 on your camera—that would be a 1 Stop (-1) over exposure because you halved it.

Push and Pull Chart

This chart simplifies how many stops a film is pushed or pulled when changing the ISO. For example, 400 ISO film set at 800 on your camera is 1 Stop (+1).

Push and Pull Film Chart

HOW TO SHOOT PUSHED OR PULL FILM

There are 2 parts to pushing or pulling film… 1) Shooting the image and then 2) developing the roll at the lab. This section details how to shoot and develop pushed or pulled film.

1) Shooting – Pushed/Pulled Film

To start, you will need a camera that allows you to manually change your ISO.  When pushing or pulling you simply set your camera or meter to the desired speed (different than the film speed) and shoot the film as you normally would. Pushing film

Pushing film

Most common in low light situations the film ISO or speed isn’t fast enough to shoot at box speed or suitable handheld shutter speed. Increasing (pushing) the ISO a stop or two allows you to shoot at a faster shutter speed or with a smaller aperture to increase the depth of field. Pushed film has increased contrast in the lighter areas with minimal effects on the shadows. To preserve the details in the shadows, make sure to meter for medium to darker areas of the image.

If you have 400 ISO film and you set it as 800 on your camera, that will be a 1 stop under exposure. When you are finished with the roll, write “+1” on the film cartridge and the order form so the lab knows to push it a stop in development.

Pushing Characteristics: Increases film contrast, More grain, Lightens Image
When developed bright areas become lighter, but shadows stay more or less the same—increases the contrast and grain of the film.

Pulling film

While the pulling technique can be done on color film, it’s not recommended and it’s almost exclusively done with black and white film.  Most people pull film in sunny, bright, or high-contrast light.  Pulling decreases contrast, but brings out details in the shadows.

If you have 100 ISO film and you set it as 50 ISO on your camera, that will be a 1 stop over exposure. When you are finished with the roll, write “-1” on the film cartridge and the order form so the lab knows to pull it a stop in development.

Pulling Characteristics: Less contrast with increased details in shadows, flat and overall dull negative, darker image

push pull marked film canisters


Metering Tip – The most common mistake we see with regular and pushed black & white film is under exposure.  When it comes to metering for color negative—and especially black and white film—be mindful what you’re metering for. We recommend metering for the shadows in even light and metering for the mid-tones in high-contrast light.  This will help you get better details in the shadows.

Mark your film – Once you’re done with the roll, be sure to write the push amount (+1, +2, etc.) on the film cartridge with a sharpie so the lab knows that it needs to be pushed. Also, select and write in the push amount on the order form. This will help ensure proper development in the lab.

 


2) Developing – Push Processing & Pull Processing

When the film is developed, Pushed film is left longer in the developer and Pulled film shorter, compensating for the different ISO setting, underexposing or overexposing film. Because Push and Pull processing time matters, it’s important to give instructions to the film lab and have the canister marked.

If you shoot 400 ISO film as 800, that is a 1 stop under exposure which will require a 1 stop push in development by processing it as an 800 ISO film. If you shoot a roll 1 stop under exposed and don’t push in development, your photos will be under-exposed.


Push and Pulled Film Examples

Cinestill 800T pushed 3 stops to 6400 Cinestill 800T +3 Not all color negative film pushes 3 stops well, but Cinestill 800T is one that is designed to do so. There will be noticeable grain and contrast. When it comes pushing up to 3 stops we mostly recommend B&W film.

Portra 400 pushed 1 stop to 800 color negative Portra 400 +1 Portra 400 pushed 1 stop will add some contrast, some slight color shifts, and if you meter correctly the grain shouldn’t be that much more noticeable that when shot at box speed.

Click on image to view details

Other examples of pushed film:

pushing Kodak Tri-X 

pushing T-Max 400

pushing T-Max 100

pushing Kodak Ektar 100

pushing Ilford HP5

pushing CineStill 50D

pushing CineStill 800T

pushing Fujifilm Pro 400H

pushing Ilford FP4 Plus


Dark Scenes

Pushing film for dark scenes

Dark scenes like this can be hard to photograph which why you often need to push your film or have a very fast lens, and in this case, both were needed! This is Kodak Tri-X 400 shot as 800iso and pushed 1 stop in development.  It was taken with a Leica M5 and a super-fast Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 that @kehcamera sent us!  This combination, along with a rangefinder that allows you to shoot at slower handheld shutter speeds is ideal for lowlight shooting.  All three of these were shot wide open at f/1.2 and produced very sharp results – we’re loving this lens so far and will be sharing more results in the future!


The Best Films for Pushing

While nearly all film types can be pushed, some have better results than others. Generally, pro-grade film stocks that have great exposure latitude will be best for pushing.

Pushing B&W film

True black and white film is the best and most common type of film to push.  Pushing film will both increase the film grain, making it more noticeable and will add more contrast to your photos.  In fact, many people push black and white film solely to get more contrast out of certain film stocks.

Pushing Color negatives

Color negatives are the second most commonly pushed film.  Pushing color negatives results in slight color shifts from increased contrast. Grain is also more noticeable.

Pushing slide film

E-6 slide film is the least common film to push but can be pushed with good results. As with color negative film, you will see an increase, in contrast, possible color shifts, and slightly more noticeable grain.


Considerations and Variables

There are many variables that will affect the results of pushed or pulled film, like; the light you’re shooting in, metering, quality of lens/camera, and film type.

Scene light – pushed film will typically do better in even light since it can have increased contrast.  A scene with very harsh/contrasty light isn’t always ideal for pushed film because it’ll make it harder to keep your highlights from blowing out.

Accurate metering always helps.  If you underexpose your shots you have increased grain, less detail in the shadows and mid-tones, and you may experience an unpleasant color shift with greenish shadows and off-color skin tones.

Cheaper/toy cameras like Lomography cameras with plastic optics could produce subpar images compared to cameras that have high-quality glass optics.

Not all film is created equal – Cheaper film stocks may not push as well as professional-grade films.  Often with a cheaper film like Kodak Gold 400, AGFA Vista 400, FujiFilm Superia 400… will experience larger color shifts, less retention of highlights, less detail in shadows, and much more grain.  While a professional-grade film like Portra and Fuji Pro400H will handle light better and stay truer to their color/tones.

The best way to understand the effects of pushing is to push your favorite film in various lighting and see how it performs, take notes and over time you’ll get to know how that film reacts to pushing and pulling and what its limitations are.

27 replies on “Pushing and Pulling Film”

Hey sorry to bother you guys quick question, If your camera doesn’t have the setting to push or pull film is there any benefit that may come from pushing potentially under-exposed film?

Hello Ted. It sounds like you are talking about a camera that automatically reads the speed of the film? you are correct -you would just have to consistently over-expose (push) or under-expose (pull) and develop accordingly to achieve those results.

I’m trying to understand push/pull. Pulling is overexposing, while pushing is underexposing. I’ve watched and read several how to’s and from what I understand pushing is almost exclusive to B&W (certain color negs don’t handle underexposing over 1 stop well). Pulling is almost exclusive to color neg (most color negs do better when overexposed.) Is this right?

Thanks, Tracy!! I’m back to film after a 20+ year hiatus and I don’t recall ever incorporating pushed/pulled film into my shooting style. I don’t think I’m ready to begin pushing/pulling during the development process, but I would like to consistently overexpose my shots by 1 or 2 stops. If I understand correctly I can set (in camera) an ASA of 200 for a 400 film and get the 1 stop overexposure that I’m looking for, correct?

Dumb question, but can I change the in-camera ASA setting mid-roll so that my meter handles a specific frame differently or is it recommended that an ASA setting be the same for the whole roll? I wouldn’t be asking your lab to push or pull – it be developed at base ASA.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again.

Depends on how hard you push it. B&W is better, but if you push too hard, you’ll see a lot of blown out highlights and grain. Pushing film shot at box speed can definitely help you get more shadow detail if you exposed for the highlights and your shadows are on the darker side.

Ted, if you’re shooting expired film and your camera doesn’t allow you to override the DX coding, then pushing during development can get you some exposure improvement, but will also amplify grain.

How about in the processing. If I am pulling two stops and the chart says 5 mins in the developer, amd I right in thinking I develop for 1.25 mins?
Thanks

Hello there! I have a question related with all these. I’m a beginner but I know (more or less) how this works already. The thing is that I can’t change my camera’s ISO manually, it seems to be somehow broken, and my question is: if I don’t use the cameras photometer but an external one, does it matter if I do not change the ISO? I suppose we change the iso on the camera in order to use its photometer, to have to correct exposure. But since I don’t use my camera photometer (I don’t even use batteries) it shouldn’t matter, right? If I have a portra 400 I will shoot putting 400 ISO on my external photometer. I have tested the camera and it works perfectly well, the photos came out right (but I used a 100 ISO roll and the camera was set in 100ASA), that’s why I’m asking, I wanna use a Portra 400 now, but as I said, it shouldn’t matter. Hope you can help me, thank you so much!

Hi! So in an extremely sunny environment, using portra 160 color film, I measured my light slightly wrong. Using a shutter speed of 400, iso 160 (box speed), and F22 while it actually should have been F11. Am I then pulling or pushing my film?

I am a beginner in film photography. This article really helps. It is simple and straight to the point. Thank you very much for the effort.

[…] In my opinion, the main difference between Film & Digital is the process.You don’t know if you’ve got a good photo until you print it or scan it. Everything can be so random that the process itself is something so exciting for me. This feeling is something that you really can’t have with the digital.You could achieve a lot of different results just by changing the developing time or the chemicals or if you push or pull the films. […]

Is it possible to push in 1/3 stop increments? I have a Nikon L35AF that has a max iso of 1000. If I put in 400 speed film, technically it’s a 1.3 stop push if I set the camera at 1000.

[…] is generally cheaper to buy than Tri-X and is widely regarded as responding beautifully to being pushed. The affordability, versatility, and similarity makes it an attractive alternative to Tri-X. As a […]

I have some Ilford 400. I shot it at 200. Do I need to put -1 on the canister? Or will it be fine at developing at box speed? I also did the same with Fuji Provia 100F. I shot it at 50.

Thank you so much for this informative article. I’m a beginner at photography who is much more interested in learning more about my FE and B&W film. I heard someone at the lab one day talk about “pushing” but not “pulling.” Now I have an idea of what these terms mean.

Hey All! I don’t know if this will get a response, but I need help! I just shot a client shoot and forgot to change my light meter to the right ISO. The film is Portra 400, and I shot it at 140. When I send it to the Darkroom for processing, what should I do? For context, it was very even lighting around 7 pm, color negative film. Thank you!

@Brontë
If you shot Portra 400 at 140 it means you would have overexposed by 1.52 stops. Each stop increase is “double” the light, each stop decrease is “half” the light. If you want to know the difference between two ISO ratings in stops, the formula is as follows. Suppose the first ISO is ‘x’ and the second ISO is ‘y’, then the difference ‘s’ in stops is:
log_2(x/y) = s

This is a logarithmic function. These play an important role in calculating stops because they aren’t linear, they’re about doubling or halving the light. log_2(a) means the power to which to raise 2 to get a. For example, log_2(4) is 2 because 2² = 4. log_2(8) is 3 because 2³ = 8. log_2(0.5) is -1 because 2 to the power of -1 is 0.5.

Let’s verify this. Suppose you want to know the difference in stops between ISO 800 and ISO 100. This gives us…
log_2(800/100) = s
=> log_2(8) = s
=> 3 = s
800 is thus 3 stops higher than 100.

Let’s try in reverse. The difference in stops between ISO 100 and 800:
log_2(100/800) = s
=> log_2(0.125) = s
=> -3 = s
100 is thus 3 stops lower than 100.

Applying that to your settings, you shot Portra 400 at 140 meaning an overexposure. The camera assumed a lower ISO than the film really is, meaning it’s shutter speed was slower and/or its aperture wider than they needed to be. So with the formula we get…
log_2(400/140) = s
=> log_2(2.8574) = s
=> 1.52 (rounded)
You can check this by doing 140 * 1.52² which is approximately 400.

Enough of the maths. So to get the proper development you’d need to *pull* it by 1.5 stops. A lab might not be able (or willing) to accommodate this, so you may need to choose between 1 or 2 stops of pulling. For digital cameras overexposure is usually a problem because blown-out highlights can’t be recovered well, while underexposed areas can often have some detail extracted from them to get proper shadows. For film it’s the opposite. Film is very light-hungry but tends to cope better with overexposure. Even when overexposed you can usually get enough definition from the highlights, which roll off elegantly with film.

So the best bet would be to go for a 1 stop pull. Your film still ends up 0.5 stops overexposed but that’s hardly a problem. Film also usually has a higher latitude for overexposure than underexposure. A 1 stop pull instead of 2 would also result in less colour shifts and less flattening of the contrast. The necessary corrections can be done when making prints or scanning.

By now your film may already have been developed and printed or scanned. In that case I hope this sheds some light for others on the maths behind push/pull processing.

@Greg Shaw
In both cases you would indeed want to have the processing pulled by one stop. The effect would be more pronounced with the slide film than the Ilford B&W.

@Stephen Caserta
That is indeed a correct calculation. The film is 1.3 stops underexposed. Labs often will only push or pull in full stop increments. If you develop yourself you could try to extrapolate the correct development time based on the data for a 1 and 2 stop push. But when in doubt just going for a 1 stop push will probably be just fine, provided it isn’t slide film. Most colour negative and B&W film will be forgiving enough not to have a 0.3 stop underexposure matter a great deal.

@Jasmijn
Shooting an ISO 160 film at an ISO 400 setting makes the camera think a more sensitive film is loaded. So you would have underexposed. That means push processing is the way to go. In this case you’ve underexposed by 1.3 stops. f/22 would be two stops lower than f/11 by the way. Maybe you meant a shutter speed of 1/400th second and using f/22 instead of f/11? Then you’d need 2 stops of push in development.

@Nora
If you can put the camera in full manual control, setting both the shutter speed and aperture, then the correct settings according to an external light meter would work just fine. After all that is sort of what the light meter of the camera does anyway. But you need to make sure to use the light meter properly. In some cases you may want to measure reflected light, in other cases incident light.

@Andrew Lindsay
It would depend on the developer. The relation between proper development time and ISO isn’t always so clear-cut. For C-41 colour processing you usually can’t mess with the temperature so the timing is the variable to control. For B&W processing you can also vary the temperature. Your best bet here is to experiment to find what works. When working in B&W stand processing could also be a good route to explore.

@Quanle
Yes. If you shoot at box speed with correct metering and settings, then push processing will result in overdeveloped negatives. The contrast would increase, highlights could be blown out but shadows get more defined and you could see increased grain. For colour negative film or slides you might also get a colour cast.

@Edgar
Setting the camera at 200 for a 400 film would indeed result in an overexposure of 1 stop if metering is kept accurate. It’s best to keep this consistent for the entire roll. After all the roll will be developed in its entirety. Deliberately overexposing just some shots and then developing for the rated box speed will just result in those shots being overexposed. An overexposure of 1 stop wouldn’t make a huge difference for most B&W film and colour negative (it would be more profound for slide film) but unless you plan to pull the development by 1 stop it’s best to stick to the box speed. Manufacturers have carefully determined that it delivers the optimal results. An exception would be some very fast films like the 3200 ISO stuff that is often actually a slower film but well suited to pushing. Deliberately shooting that at 1600 or even 800 and pulling the development can give nice results. You can end up with a film that’s still quite fast but with reduced grain.

I’ve had you guys push Kodak Ektachrome E100 3 stops, and have gotten fine results. Fujichrome Provia 100F pushes 2 stops well, but the color tends to fall apart with a 3 stop push, so for low light photography with slide film, Ektachrome is my go-to.

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