How to push and pull film for technical or creative use
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.
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.
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.
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.