Tug Of War: Pushing and Pulling Film


Pushing film? Pulling film? Heard about it but not sure what it is? This small article may start you off in the right direction.

I must start this piece by telling you that I’m not an expert on pushing or pulling film, and to be honest I’ve not yet pulled film. But I have a decent idea of when to use the technique, gained through trial and error. So this isn’t intended as a complete guide to pushing and pulling; it’s more of a ‘this is what I messed with, see what you can do’.

So, what does it mean? Well, I’ll deal only with pushing film, so be aware that pulling is pretty much the same but in reverse. When I’m pushing film it means I’m developing longer than I’m supposed to. So, if the film is 400 ISO and it should be developed for 6:30 in Ilfosol, I’ll develop it for 13:30 instead. Why?

Well, say you’re in a poorly lit situation and you don’t have a flash. You’ve just got your Holga and some black and white film – in my case almost always Ilford HP5 Plus, which is rated at 400 ISO. You know it’s too dark to really capture everything properly but you shoot anyway, with the intention of pushing the film in development – you’re basically shooting as if you’ve got 800 ISO film in your camera.

This is because, when you push film (and in our case that just means developing for longer) the shadows on the negative get to spend more time developing, thus bringing out more detail. This means that although you have a mid-speed film you can still shoot in poor lighting, knowing that those details will be brought out by the extra development time (this also means that the highlights develop fully which often results in an image with a lot of contrast).

So, when would I personally use it? Well, for me the main reason I use it isn’t in dark conditions but in conditions where I feel a lot of contrast would benefit the final image. This is usually when the subject is in shade, or when the subject has a lot of detail against a fairly average background (like a dull grey sky).

I think the technique is particularly helpful if you live in the UK and like shooting black and white film with a Holga, as the light is nearly always poor (although it’s glorious sunshine as I write!) and pushing the film really helps get the most from your shot. The best advice I can give you is to just try it. Most film has a development chart on the box so just buy a roll of 400, shoot it in slightly less-than-perfect lighting conditions and then check the development times. Chances are it will tell you the development times for 800, 1200 etc. If it’s Ilford it almost definitely will and if not, just do a quick search online – the internet is your friend.

My first roll of pushed film was done without really knowing what I was doing and the top photo in this article is from that roll – super contrasty but in a good way! Oh by the way, this technique will also bring out more grain in your final image, which for me is another good reason to push the film. You can get a lot more advanced if you have a camera with adjustable ISO settings but this is the way I do it on a basic Holga – nice and simple.

And if it doesn’t quite work out… Oh well, that’s an excuse to go shoot another roll of film!

written by panchoballard on 2011-05-05 in #gear #tipster #development #film-processing #tipster #pull #holga #pulling #pushing #push #developing #home-developing #black-and-white


  1. disasterarea
    disasterarea ·

    Good introductory article. My personal favorite for night time shooting is Ilford XP2 400, shot at ISO 800 and pushed 1 stop.

  2. shinysilverdragon
    shinysilverdragon ·

    Wow! great introduction to a concept :) I had heard these terms, but had no idea what it meant! thank you for breaking it down so clearly!

  3. willyboy
    willyboy ·

    I've been pushed and pulled all over the shop!

  4. eremigi
    eremigi ·

    I pushed an Ilford HP5 up to 3200 ASA (see my Album "Night" if you are interested) - and I love the results: very contrastry and thick grain !
    I agree with you: Ilford HP5 is by far the best for this, at least in my experience.

  5. panchoballard
    panchoballard ·

    Thanks for the kind words. Eremigi, I love that album. I might try to do the same with some HP5 in the Holga. Thanks!

  6. pzjo
    pzjo ·

    very helpful :)

  7. freyfrey
    freyfrey ·

    Are photo labs able to help us out with this? I dont have access to a dark room :(

  8. eremigi
    eremigi ·

    Sure! All (semi-professional) labs should have no problem at all. You just need to instruct the shop attendant to develop your film at a different ISO. And to be sure, cross the correspondent little square on the roll itself - most films have this; Ilford certainly does.

  9. panchoballard
    panchoballard ·

    As eremigi says, most pro or semi-pro labs will do this. Your local supermarket probably won't do it but it's always worth asking, there might be a Lomo-friendly assistant working there!

  10. sharanmccarthy
    sharanmccarthy ·

    Nice one, lad! Good article, and thanks for sharing Bolton on t'internet :)

  11. jojo8785
    jojo8785 ·

    I have a question, can you cross process AND push a film? I've found that my slide films once x-pro are very dark...perhaps a push would help? (until I can learn the adjustments for my camera with this kind of film).

  12. panchoballard
    panchoballard ·

    @jojo8785 Good question! I must admit I don't know the answer but my instinct is to say, probably. Ask your lab beforehand to be sure.

  13. hewzay
    hewzay ·

    Great article. I've recently been pushing Tri-X 400 up to 1600 and I'm loving the results. A great resource for finding out dev times. www.digitaltruth.com/devchart.php including if you want to push or pull.

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