Everything you need to know about Shooting and Developing Pushed or Pulled Film
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 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).
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
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.
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
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.
Examples – Pushed/Pulled Film
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 +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
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.
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.
- Recommended film stock to try – Tri-X 400 & Ilford HP5 plus.
Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5 – See a comparison of the two films
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.
- Recommended film stock to try – Portra 400 & Fuji Pro400H
View sample of pushed Portra 400
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.
- Recommended film stock to try – Provia 100f & Velvia 100
View sample of Pushed Velvia 100
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 under expose 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 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 it limitations are.