As a film photographer, you may have heard other film buffs discuss pushing and pulling film. We did a bit of research to help you understand these concepts a bit.
(left) ProImage 100 shot at 400 (pushed 2 stops), shot by Michael @fixedwithyou
What is Pushing?
Pushing film is the process in which under-exposed film is processed to create a exposure that is 'properly exposed'. When pushing, the film sits in the developer for a longer period of time. For color film, this additionally means that the developer must be at a different temperature as well.
Note: We like to use this method with intention, as it will not give you the effect you want if you aren't aware of its limitations.
How does it work in camera, how do I get my film pushed?
THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE: When dropping off your film, please specify that you want your film PUSHED, and to what degree (1 stop or more). We do not push film in-house, but we can certainly have it done for you, but it is very important that you relay the information that you want it pushed and you know it won't be done in-house. In locations where they push film in-house, sometimes you can indicate how much you want your film pushed by writing a "+1" or so in sharpie on the film can. We highly recommend ALSO telling the person you drop off your film how you want it processed as well to make sure you don't run into any issues.
Here's how to do it: Insert your film, and instead of setting you ISO/ASA to 400 (for example), set your ISO/ASA to 800 or 1600, and keep it there. Every time you 'double' your ISO/ASA, you are pushing your film by a stop.
Ex: You have Kodak ISO 200 Film
Setting the ISO to 400 is pushing 1 stop
Setting the ISO to 800 is pushing 2 stops
Setting the ISO to 1600 is pushing 3 stops
Setting the ISO to 3200 is pushing 4 stops
And the list continues.
(The photo above is a digital recreation of the look pushed film could give you)
What does Pushing my Film give me?
Pushing film is in essence, a contrast booster. Your film will have more grain and the contrast will build the more you push your film. Highlights and midtones will increase, however, shadows and blacks will remain the same -- thus increasing contrast.
Myths that must be busted about Pushing Film:
1. Should I push film if I want to shoot a low light situation? It sounds like it'll help me gain more detail.
Answer: You CAN push film to shoot in a lower light situation, however, you will not gain more detail in images unless if you are metering and considering those shady sections of the scene. By increasing contrast, this doesn't mean that you are bringing out more information. If the scene you shot has really dark shadows, and when you shoot, you don't remember to compensate so those shadows are brightened up a little, when you push your film, those shadows will not be 'brightened'. You could lose even more detail additional due to the increase of grain in the image.
2. The only time I should push film is if I'm shooting in low light.
Answer: FALSE. Arguably, shooting during the day time (both indoors/outdoors/in shade/direct sunlight), could create EVEN better exposures. Imagine shooting with Portra 160-400. Portra is a 'flatter' film that tends to mute colors and sometimes contrast. In order to create an even more contrasted effect, shooting 160/400 at a higher ASA (ISO) like 800 or 1600. Instead of having to add more contrast post-scanning, you may just have the perfect shots straight out of camera.
By-products of Pushing Film:
1. More Grain
2. More Contrast
3. Lose detail in Shadowy Sections of Exposure
4. Color Shifting * This all depends on what film you use. In the samples we see of people pushing Portra in daylight, the more you push the colors can shift cooler/warmer depending on how much you push. Although, to the naked eye, it is barely noticeable and can be corrected in a photo editing software.
(right) Ilford HP5 400 shot at 1600 (pushed 2 stops), shot by Michael @fixedwithyou
What is Pulling?
Pulling film is when you over-expose your film, thus the film must be in the developer for a shorter period of time. Note: This process if OFTEN deemed unnecessary if you have over-exposed your film by one stop. Most film is flexible enough to be salvaged if it's only been over-exposed between 1-2 stops (Portra especially). Additionally, we want to mention that pulling color film is NOT common as it is with B/W film, but we encourage you to play with the look to see if it's right for you.
How does it work in camera, how do I get my film pulled?
THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE: When dropping off your film, please specify that you want your film PULLED, and to what degree (1 stop or more). We do not pull film in-house, but we can certainly have it done for you, but it is very important that you relay the information that you want it pulled and you know it won't be done in-house. In locations where they pull film in-house, sometimes you can indicate how much you want your film pushed by writing a "-1" or so in sharpie on the film can. We highly recommend ALSO telling the person you drop off your film how you want it processed as well to make sure you don't run into any issues.
Here's how to do it: Insert your film, and instead of setting you ISO/ASA to 800 (for example), set your ISO/ASA to 400 or 100, and keep it there. Every time you 'half' your ISO/ASA, you will need to pull your roll by a stop.
Ex: You have Cinestill ISO 800 Film
Setting the ISO to 400 is pulling 1 stop
Setting the ISO to 200 is pulling 2 stops
Setting the ISO to 100 is pulling 3 stops
And the list continues.
What does Pulling my Film give me?
Pulling film is in essence, a contrast flattener. Your exposures will lose contrast, however, contrast can always be added back in during post-processing. The benefit, unlike pushing film, is that shadow WILL have added detail.
By-products of Pushing Film:
1. Less Grain
2. Flatter Images
3. Gain Details in Shadowy Sections of Exposure
Looking to Purchase Film Now?
We will be adding popular film rolls to our site for purchase by Friday (04/03/20)
In the meantime, we have random film packs available for $20-30, including shipping!
These packs feature 3 film rolls.
You can find them for purchase HERE.
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The Shutterbug is a Oregon Family Owned & Operated Camera Store, with four locations in Oregon. We have been in the industry of helping photographers like you since 1971.