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Pushing and Pulling Film - What does it mean?

Have you ever wanted to try Pushing & Pulling film? We've all been there at certain points of our film photography journey, wondering how to push & pull film, what effect this would have on the images. How to get more grain, brighter images, or greater contrast? Do I push in camera, or in development, or both? Or, how far can I push/pull my film?

These are all questions we've asked ourselves since the start of our film developing & photography journey, so we thought we'd outlay our thoughts and findings to help out some of you guys as well!

How to Push & Pull your Film

One of the great things about film is how versatile it is. Playing around with the ISO of film and seeing its effect is a really good way to get more from your film as well as learning the characteristics this can produce to influence your shoots.

Pushing and pulling, put simply, is rating your film's ISO/ASA higher (push) or lower (pull) than the ISO rated on the film itself (e.g. Box Speed). When pushing and pulling film, this is done in 'stops'. Pushing a film one 'stop' is to double the ISO of a film, whilst pulling a film one 'stop' would be to halve the film. For example, if you had a roll of Ilford HP5 400 ISO you could shoot it at 800 iso or 200 iso which is a stop above or below the film's base rating. You can of course shoot at a half stop (e.g. shooting HP5 at 600 ISO), or push/pull by more than one stop, you just need to redouble, or halve again the ISO (e.g. HP5 push 2+ is ISO1600 or pull -2 is ISO100).

The ability to do this in your camera depends on what you are shooting on. This is almost always possible with SLR or medium format cameras that have more manual controls and allow you to influence your camera settings (Aperture, Shutter speed & ISO). But you may not be able to push or pull your film if you are shooting a point & shoot or a more advanced film camera, which has the ability to read the 'DX code' on the films canister (the little silver & black barcode looking part of the label) which tells the camera the ISO of your film so that it can figure the right settings for the situation in which you are shooting your film camera.

Developing Film That Has Been Pushed or Pulled

Though you can push and pull both colour and black and white film, in camera, the approach to developing your film is slightly different and varied. Different labs will offer you different services based on what they believe best practice, and what their equipment can offer.

BW Film

Pushing & pulling film in developing is more often recommended with black and white as there is more that can be done in developing to help compensate for the rating you have shot your film at. Pushing and Pulling film in development is achieved by increasing or decreasing the time your film is exposed to the 'developer' chemical bath to make the results more even and true to the higher or lower rating. As for our services at The Film Safe Developing Lab, we are very happy to push your BW film in order to realise the extra contrast and stronger blacks desired when choosing to shoot your film at a higher ISO. However, we would suggest that any BW film pulled in-camera for greater brightness should be developed at the regular development times. The reason for this as that whilst shooting your film at a lower ISO will help you attain brighter images, developing your film for a shorter period of time than recommended will cause a weaker development, and therefore a lighter, or washed out image, with a lack of contrast. So in this case, we would suggest pulling your film in camera, but with standard development times!

- Do you need film developing & scanning? Check out our many options for processing your film! -

Colour Film

The colour process however, is a lot more regimented in its developing. There is a set developing time for our colour machine (which is an industry standard), as your film is pulled through each of the four chemical baths (developer, bleach, fix & stabiliser) at a set speed by a complex series of rotating cogs and rollers. Therefore, it isn't possible to compensate for the change in rating in development. But don't lose hope just yet! Colour film is very flexible and able to handle one or two stops either way at the standard developing time, and the results of your push/pull will still be retained - we can then make slight adjustments to exposure when scanning to ensure you have the best exposure on your images!

What will your Push & Pull images look like?

Pushing your film

Rating it higher will tell your camera that the film is MORE sensitive to light. This means that the negatives will be exposed to light for less time making the negatives lighter and, therefore, the scanned image darker and more contrasted. Here are some examples.

Pulling your film

Rating it lower will tell your camera that the film is LESS sensitive to light. The negatives will be exposed to light for less time when shooting, making the negatives darker and therefore the image post scanning lighter and less contrasted.

How to shoot at different ISO's

On most SLR cameras, you will have the option to set the ISO on a little dial at the top. This tells your light meter how sensitive the film is allowing the readings it takes to be as accurate as possible. In order to push/pull your film in camera, you need to change this dial to the higher or lower number on the ISO or ASA dial. We recommend not shooting more than one or two stops either way. Once you have shot your roll, there is a little box on the side of the canister, you can put a little cross in the box for the ISO you shot at to let us know that this was rated differently. You can also let us know in your note that you send us with your and even write on the side of the canister in permanent marker the ISO you shot at to make sure we don't miss it!

Why would you do this?

Sometimes it is good to rate your film higher or lower depending on the lighting. If you are in low light conditions and you only have the one roll in your camera at 200 you can get more from the lighting by pulling your film telling it that it needs more light because the film is less light sensitive. Similarly if you wanted more contrast in your images you could push your film to let less light in.

If you need film developing, and fancy experimenting with push & pull see what results you can get then get shooting, just drop us an email or add a note to your order requesting push & pull at no extra cost!

If you have any questions or want any further advice on how to shoot then you can get hold of us on Instagram, email or Discord. - Good Luck!

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