How to push and pull film for technical or creative use

Dec 28, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to push and pull film for technical or creative use

Dec 28, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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If you’re new to film, pushing and pulling it when developing is a bit like ramping the exposure slider up or down in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. Except, here you’re doing it with a purpose when you shoot. Sometimes it’s for technical reasons. At other times, it’s purely an artistic choice. In this video, Jay P Morgan at The Slanted Lens tells us all about the how, when and why to pushing and pulling film.

Practical reasons

So what are the practical reasons that you might want to push or pull film? Well, say you’re shooting somewhere fairly dim, but all you have with you is 400 speed film. Your shutter speed is already as low as you’re comfortable with, your aperture’s as wide as it will go, but your meter says you still need more light.

Well, just pretend you have 1600 speed film in your camera. Expose and shoot for that. Then in developing you push the film by two stops to bring up that exposure.

Push developing is usually done by either extending the time the film is developing, the temperature, the strength of the chemicals, or a combination of all three.

Artistic reasons

Pushing and pulling film is often done for the look it produces. This is typically the main reason many choose to push or pull film. The contrast and grain can both be affected by pushing or pulling film. Some films offer a very unique look when you develop them for a speed other than that which is printed on the box. And, yes, it may be subjective as to what’s “better”, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Pushing film (raising the effective ISO) typically increases contrast and the appearance of grain, while pulling film (overexposing and dialing down the effective ISO) generally lowers contrast and grain.

In the video, Jay uses Fuji Pro 400H, Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Portra 800. And you can easily see the differences in Portra 400 pushed to 800 vs correctly exposed Portra 800. Likewise, Portra 800 pulled to 400 also looks quite different compared to Portra 400.

Pushing and pulling film can be great fun, just to experiment and see how various films present when developed for different ISOs. Some films differ very little in appearance, while others can be wildly different from box speed.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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10 responses to “How to push and pull film for technical or creative use”

  1. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Instead of shooting multiple rolls of the same scene and push or pull, I prefer to shoot fewer rolls and dodge and burn the image on paper.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      They only shot multiple rolls of the same scene because that’s how side-by-side comparisons work. :)

      1. Chris Avatar
        Chris

        Back in the film days, if you wanted to be sure you got the shot, you shot many rolls, because between the time of the shoot and the time you got your film processed, there were a lot of possible variables, to put it mildly. Nowadays, film seems more like a niche, and photogs who were not around at the time when digital photography did not exist probably have a hard time grasping all the requirements that came with the lack of instant gratification…

        1. phoenixoc Avatar
          phoenixoc

          disqus_0oMtyyE0l4 yes

  2. Malone Avatar
    Malone

    Hang on.

    The video shows that 400 film pulled to 200 makes for a more exposed image.

    Yet the description under the video says that if you take 400 film and push to 1600 if you have an underexposed scene in order to get the correct exposure i.e. more exposure in the scene.

    I don’t see how the two approaches can both be correct. Surely, the description is wrong if the video results are explained correctly.

  3. Malone Avatar
    Malone

    Hang on.

    The video shows that 400 film pulled to 200 makes for a more exposed image.

    Yet the description under the video says that if you’re shooting an underexposed scene with 400 film you should push to 1600 to get the correct exposure i.e. more light in the scene.

    The two approaches cannot both be correct.

    Which is it then?

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Either approach can be correct. They’re different things. If you’re shooting ISO400 film and exposing for ISO200 then you pull it one stop and develop it as ISO200 film. But not every scene can be easily shot when exposing for ISO200. That’s when pushing film comes into play. Sometimes you need to push the film, shoot and develop as ISO1600 in order to get a fast enough shutter speed to eliminate issues with camera shake.

      Suggest you go out and experiment with both for yourself. :)

      1. Malone Avatar
        Malone

        Still unclear. And sadly film these days is too expensive to experiment extensively.

        Say it’s a cloudy overcast day. I’m using Portra 400 with a camera that’s F4 wide open. If I needed to get more light onto the sensor to ensure a correct exposure should I pull the roll to 200 or push to 800/1600?

        1. Kaouthia Avatar
          Kaouthia

          It’s not really that expensive, and you’ll need to experiment with film in order to determine what works best for you. That’s the nature of the beast. Always has been. If it’s too expensive for you, then perhaps it’s not worth pursuing. :)

          1. neil Avatar
            neil

            The way I see it, if you’re shooting at box speed 400 and your aperture is completely open and your shutter speed is down to 1/60, instead of going down to 1/30 to try and up the exposure and risking blur, you take your iso to 200 over exposing it one stop to try and correct. On the other hand when you push an entire roll, you’re able to shoot at much better shutter speeds and close your aperture, however your entire roll is now one stop under exposed and that’s why when you develop the roll you need to develop the roll longer as one stop over exposed. Please correct me if my understanding is flawed, I haven’t been shooting film for long