Pushing Film: Film Photography Guide by Amy Berge

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, Shoot It With Film may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Written by Amy Berge

One of the beautiful things about film is it allows for all types of experimentation, and one of the most common ways to manipulate film is by pushing it.

To a film newbie, the concept of pushing film is very foreign, since there’s no digital equivalent. I want to give a rundown on it without being too complicated or technical.

If you still have questions after reading this, please drop them below!

Film Photography Guide to Pushing Film
Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film
Kodak Portra 160 rated at 320 pushed 1 stop

What it Means to Rate Film

Before I can talk about pushing film, I have to touch on rating film. (Trust me!)

Every film is labeled with an ISO (a light sensitivity) determined by the manufacturer. The ISO labeled on the roll of film is the ISO setting the film manufacturers intended you to set on your camera or light meter.

For example, Kodak Portra 400 (find on Amazon) is designed to be shot at ISO 400.

The term “rating” is just another way to say how you set the ISO on your camera or external light meter. If you set your ISO to 200, you are rating the film at 200.

The term “box speed” means to rate the film at the ISO listed on the film box or roll. Rating Portra 400 at box speed is setting your ISO to 400 (just like it says on the box!).

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Ektar 100 rated at 200 pushed 1 stop

Rating Film Differently Than Box Speed

But many times, you’ll want to shoot your film at a different ISO than intended.

This means if I’m shooting a roll of Portra 400, I may want to set the ISO to 200 (telling my camera the film is less light sensitive than it actually is), which will overexpose the film by one stop.

If I set the ISO on my camera or light meter to 200, then I’ve rated my film at 200.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Ilford HP5 400 rated at 1600 pushed 2 stops

Why Would You Rate Film Differently Than What the Box Tells You?

Some films are notoriously light hungry (ahem…Fuji 400h), so people will set the ISO at 200 or even 100 when they’re shooting to allow for lots of overexposure.

Personally, I tend to rate Fujis at half box speed to overexpose them, and I rate my Kodaks at box speed (except Portra 800, which I also rate at half box).

When I’m shooting on an overcast day or I’m losing light or I’m shooting indoors, I need a faster shutter speed to capture moving kiddos.

In this instance, I might rate my film higher than the suggested ISO on the box so my shutter speed can get a little faster to capture the action.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Ektar 100 rated at 200 pushed 1 stop

Pushing Film and Underexposure

But when I rate the film above box speed, it means I’m underexposing my film, and film doesn’t like underexposure.

Film gets its information by the amount of light hitting the negative, and if little or no light hits it, that part of the film will have little to no information on it.

Fortunately, there is a way to salvage these purposefully underexposed rolls of film via pushing the film during the development process.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Ektar 100 rated at 200 pushed 1 stop

*Note: I would be remiss to not acknowledge what setting a camera’s ISO does and doesn’t do.

The ONLY point of setting a camera’s ISO is for use of an internal light meter. Cameras that don’t have an internal light meter also don’t have an ISO setting.

I’ve heard panicking photographers who use their external light meter say that they forgot to change the ISO on the camera. If you solely use an external light meter, it doesn’t even matter what the ISO on the camera is set at.

*Double Note: Some people use the terms “pushing” and “pulling” for how they rate their film as well.

As matter of personal preference, I ONLY refer to pushing and pulling as the development process and stick to the term “rating” for how I set my meter’s ISO.

I find it far too confusing to not distinguish between what’s happening in-camera vs. what’s happening in the development process because as you’ll see below these things are completely independent.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak ColorPlus 200 rated at 320 pushed 1 stop

Pushing Film vs Pulling Film

Pushing film during development means that the film sits in the developer longer than if it was processed under normal conditions. It is effectively allowing the film to “cook” longer.

So what happens when film is pushed in developing? When film is pushed, contrast is increased, saturation is increased, grain is increased, and color shifts can occur.

Pulling film is effectively the opposite. It’s allowing the film to spend less time in the developer thereby lessening its contrast and muting its colors.

This is typically not done with c41 film (color film) since it already sits in chemicals for such a short time, but some people will do this with black and white film, especially black and white film with high ISOs.

I will report back when I take the leap and pull some film.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Portra 400 rated at 640 pushed 1 stop

Why Would You Want to Push Film?

People push film anytime they want to add contrast, grain, or color to their rolls.

Leaving film in the developer longer than normal allows any bit of the negative that has information (basically meaning it has some sort of exposure that hit it) to “cook” for a longer period of time, which can be especially helpful when purposefully underexposing film. It will in some ways compensate for underexposure.

Classically, if you rate your 400 speed film at 800 (thereby underexposing it one stop when shooting), you’d then compensate by pushing the film one stop in development.

This DOES NOT mean your film will look as if it was rated at 400. What pushing WILL do is salvage your underexposed film by keeping it in the developer longer but it will also give your film more contrast and grain than if it was shot at 400 and developed normally.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Portra 160 rated at 320 pushed 1 stop

ISO Stops

Regarding ISO, full stop differences are either half or double. So, if I take my 400 speed film and rate it at 1600, that means I’ve underexposed my film by two stops.

400 doubled is 800 (one stop), and doubled again is 1600 (two stops). Typically, that means I would push my film two stops in development.

Similarly, some people like to rate Ektar 100 at 400 (doubling the ISO twice) and push two in development.

This makes an already saturated film even more saturated and constrasty; when done well (read: good light and knowledgeable photographer), it’s gorgeous.

If you want to pull your film, you might take something like Ilford Delta 3200 and rate it at 1600 (overexposing it one stop since half of 3200 is 1600) and pull it one stop in development. But once again, I’ve never done this…..yet.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Tri-X 400 rated at 1000 pushed 2 stops

Pushing Film as an Experiment

But this is film and the beauty is that we don’t have to follow the rules.

If you’re like me and you LOVE punchy color, contrast, and grain, then push your film just because you like the look of it.

So experiment! Rate your 400 speed film at 400 and push one in development just to add grain and contrast.

Or one of my favorites lately has been to rate my Tri-X 400 at 1250 and push two in development. It gives me that beautiful black and white grain but doesn’t add gobs of contrast that pushing 2 stops normally adds.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Portra 400 rated at 640 pushed 1 stop

How to Develop Pushed Film

Sending it to a Lab

No matter how you rate your film, the most important piece of information for your lab is to know how many stops you want to push your film.

I always have a Sharpie handy to label my rolls so I don’t forget how many stops I want to push it. The lab needs this same information.

Want to push a roll one stop? Put a “+1” on the roll itself and then make a note on your order form.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film

Kodak Tri-X 400 rated at 1250 pushed 2 stops

Self-Developing Pushed Film

If you’re self-developing, know that pushing film is no more complicated than developing it normally; the film will just sit in the developer longer. All other steps remain the same.

All C41 is developed for the same length of time and that time is determined by the chemicals you use.

When you get your kit, the manufacturer should indicate how much extra time is needed per stop. You can check out my step-by-step tutorial for developing color film at home here.

When developing black and white film, use Massive Dev Chart. It is a completely comprehensive guide to times for pushing different films using various chemicals. It takes the guesswork out of developing and pushing black and white film.

You can also check out my step-by-step tutorial for developing b&w film at home here.

Understanding Pushing Film by Amy Berge on Shoot It With Film
Massive Dev Chart Screenshots

I hope this has answered some of your basic questions about pushing film, but as I said, if you are still left with questions feel free to drop them below!


Thank you so much, Amy! Amy is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other film photography tutorials here, including tutorials on how to develop b&w and color film! To see more of Amy’s work, be sure to visit her on her website and Instagram!

Leave your questions about pushing film below in the comments!

Amy Berge

Amy Berge is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find her other articles here, such as How To Develop Black and White Film at Home and Olympus Stylus Epic Point & Shoot Film Camera Review.

Tags:
Blog Comments

If I were to shoot a 400 iso film at 100 and develop the roll at box speed, would that still be considered as pushing film?

Great question! If you were to rate a 400 speed film at 100 you’d be overexposing it two stops. What some would do is pull it in development to account for that, but to develop normally at box speed wouldn’t be pushing it, the verbiage would just be overexposing the film two stops. Does that make sense?

Thank you for this article – it’s very informative. I’m new to 35mm. I do have some questions though – why is there such an aversion to underexposure in film photography? I prefer darker photographs usually at 75% of normal exposure – is this supposed to be done while taking the exposure or while developing it?

So glad you found it informative! Such good questions; there are sooooo many moving pieces to film photography (taking the photo, developing, scanning/enlarging). Film is directly the opposite of digital in that it handles overexposure better than under because it needs more light to gather more information. If you truly underexposed the film there will be a loss of information and when the scanner tries to scan it the frame will be muddy. A properly exposed image is easier to play around with during scanning because you can scan for the shadows, midtones, or highlights. So most likely what you’re drawn to are properly exposed images (with a full tonal range) but then the image scanned for the highlights so that the range falls on the darker side. If you underexpose a frame there isn’t as much information to work with so it’s hard to get the nice black points.

Great read thank you!

Would there be any point in overexposing a film by a stop then pushing a stop. So Hp5 or tri-x shot at 200 then pushed one stop. Or would you just rate the film at box speed and then push?

So glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t tried overexposing AND pushing per se, but I have rated Tri-X 400 at 1000 and pushed two (instead of rating it at 1600 and pushing two stops). The beauty of film is its experimentation, so I think it would be worth trying and seeing if you like your results! I have heard black and white is less tolerant to overexposure, but I haven’t found that to be the case for me. It just has such amazing latitude! The black and white photo of my son sitting in a chair was rated at 1000 and pushed two and the negatives were SO DENSE. (The frames on the strip look almost completely black) I panicked and worried they were too overexposed and yet my scanner was able to glean all the information it needed from them! You should totally give it a go and report back!!!

James – check out this article: http://www.johnnypatience.com/the-zone-system-is-dead/

You can get nice results with what you’re intending 🙂 I took some shots in Rome on Tri-X and from memory rated at 640 and pushed to 800. Love how they turned out. If I’m allowed I’ll send you a link to my Instagram page otherwise just check out that article.

Very comprehensive article Amy! Nice work 🙂

Thanks for the article Amy!

Very insightful. I am just starting to toy around with pushing my film as i would like more grain and contrast with my images. One question i cannot seem to find a definite answer too, what would happen if i were to push my film 1 stop but develop at box speed. So no increased development time..

Ive read on one forum that you can push one stop and develop as normal with great results. Im guessing it depends on film being used also?..

It would be more convenient to push the odd photo here and there without having to push the whole roll, however, im not sure if results would enable one to do so.

Hi Cam! I’m so sorry I missed your comment!
As for pushing your film one stop but developing as normal, that’s the same as underexposing one stop, so it really depends on the film you’re using AND how you meter. If you meter for shadows and also underexpose, you might be fine, but that’s really the same as rating at box speed and metering for something like midtones or highlights.
Some films just have better latitude, so something like Portra 400 would do great if you underexpose it a bit. Does that make any sense?

Hi!, really nice post and really cool website, I like it too much. I have a question, should I expose Por shadows, highlights or midtones when I’m planning to push a film? Or depends? Thanks!

Hi Carlos! I’m glad you’re finding the website helpful! It’s such a great resource!
As for how to meter, it’s really up to you. I personally tend to meter the same when I push film as when I don’t, which is pretty much always for shadows unless I’m shooting in direct sunlight, then I often meter for highlights. But play around and see what works for you! I love that film is an art and a science, which makes it so fun (and frustrating!) to experiment with.

Hi! Great article. Thanks for sharing 🙂

I have been using Kodak ColourPlus 200 but my photos always turn out underexposed and almost an extremely dark photo when I’m indoor (cafe setting). Should I push it to 800 and tell the lab to develop it at 800 setting? Thanks!

You have a few options to try! You could try rating your film at 100 and develop normally to help counteract the underexposure. If your goal is to have a faster shutter speed, you could rate it at 200 and have your lap push it a stop and see what happens. Or rate it at 400 and have your lab push it two stops. Or try all three and see which results you like best!

Hi Amy
Great article, just one question. What would happen or what would be the difference if you push a film from 100 to 400 but meter at 100 for one shot or you meter at 400 for another. I increased a box speed from 100 to 400, told the developer N+2 but I cannot remember if I actually metered with a rating of 100 or 400? Thank you

Good question! I haven’t done direct comparisons but pushing always increases contrast and possibility of color shifts. That being said, if you actually shot at 100 and pushed it, you might just end up with beautiful colors and more subtle contrast than if you rated at 400. For instance, I love rating portra 800 at 400 and pushing 1 stop. You just never know what is going to produce a result you love, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

Thanks Amy, this is the best explanation I’ve read. It’s much clearer to me now. So much less confusing than other articles I’ve read!

Thank you for this feedback Donna! It makes me happy to hear this article helped untangle the concept for you!

Great post!
I know a friend of mine who shoots Tri-X 400 @800 and develops at @1600.
I don’t get the purpose of this process.
Any idea?

Thank you!
And I would assume the logic behind this is to overexpose. Similarly how people will rate Fuji 400h at 200 and develop normally (rather than pulling their film), they are underexposing a stop. To shoot at 800 and push 2 instead of 1, they are overexposing. I often shoot at 1250 and push 2 just to allow for a little latitude. It’s totally personal preference, though! I love how pushing my black and white increases grain and contrast, so maybe your friend wants the grain and contrast but even more tones in the highlight range so s/he overexposes.

Thanks Amy!
I’ll try it.

You’re welcome! Let us know how it goes!!!

Hey Amy, thanks so much for the detailed post! It’s definitely one of the clearest ones I’ve read on pushing film; the concept wasn’t intuitive to me at first, so this was really helpful.

One question: Let’s say I shot a 400 speed film at 100 ISO, but didn’t say anything to the film lab, so they developed it at 400. Does that have any effect on the film? I’m still trying to understand pushing/pulling, so apologies if this is a simple question!

Hi Sheila! I’m thrilled to hear that this made the concept clearer for you. It’s definitely a bit of a mind bender since a lot of it can feel backwards. And great question! If I shoot a 400 roll at 100, it’s usually because I want to overexpose and develop normally. You *can* pull your film, but pulling isn’t very common (especially if it’s C-41 since the already spends so little time in chemicals and pulling would make it spend less time.). So if your goal was to overexpose, then you don’t even need to tell your lab, because they will develop it normally. If your intent was to overexpose to pull the film, then go ahead and tell your lab! (pulling it will do the opposite of pushing it and will decrease contrast and will also mess with tones.). I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions!

Hi! I am a total total beginner at film ! I want to shoot expired film. I have a canister that is 20 years expired. It is 100 iso so does that mean that i would have to overexpose it by pulling it two stops at iso 25 ?? Am I assuming this correctly ? what would the exposure latitude look like for area 11 & 12 for dx coding ?? Thank you so much for this article i feel it helped me understand a lot about film & i appreciate that it’s written by a woman because it may be because i’m a young girl but reading and watching mansplained articles and videos have been hard to decipher what exactly i’m supposed to be doing hahah !

Hi Alondra! I am so glad you ran across this article and that it helped empower you!
Twenty year-old film?!?!?! What a treasure!!!! To be honest, rating expired film one stop over for every decade expired is sort of a controversial thing in the film world. I personally follow this rule because if film hasn’t been stored properly I have found overexposing gives it a fighting chance AND that I personally like my results by following this rule. So I most definitely would rate it around 25 but know others wouldn’t tell you to do that. But either way I would develop normally and NOT pull it in development. I would just rate it around 25 to give it extra light. If you pull it you will decrease contrast and add in color shifts.
I am not familiar enough with latitude of each film so I never change the bottom row of the DX coding. If you want to give it as little latitude as possible you can make sure 11 and 12 are blacked out. I hope this helps!!!

Leave a Comment