I recently got back into shooting film. I was more of a casual shooter until 2019 when I picked up my first medium format camera: a Kowa Six MM with an 85mm/F2.8 lens. The reverse viewfinder and square composition were awkward at first, but I grew to like the simplicity and the short rolls. Twelve shots and I’m on to the next. It allowed me to quickly switch through a variety of film stocks as well as different processing methods.
I read a lot about pushing and pulling film, but never tried. When pushing, you underexpose by a calculated amount (usually 1-2 stops), then over-develop the film by another calculated amount to compensate hopefully resulting in a properly exposed image. Pushing increases contrast and graininess in the image. It is often done out of necessity when there’s not enough light, but some do it on purpose for stylistic effect.
Pulling is the inverse of pushing: overexpose the negative, then under-process. I imagine it’s less common because you have to meter the film at a slower ISO than the native, so getting enough exposure can become an issue. The results of pulling are also inverse: lower contrast and finer grain.
I recently shot a roll of Fujifilm Pro 400H, pulling 2 stops. It’s a film I am familiar with and would recognize the changes in the image. I metered the roll at ISO 100 – two stops from the native 400 – then had the lab pull (-2) in processing. I was expecting a flat, dull image like the LOG color of a digital camera. The results were anything but.
I shot a variety of scenes to get a feel for how pull-processing behaved. Because of the extra exposure, the image is burned thick into the negative. Under-processing the film wrangles that image back, but leaves an amount of shadow detail I’m more accustomed to seeing in digital cameras. I was surprised at how mellow the shadows were under a harsh daylight. The pulled image also made detailed shadows on interior scenes and long gradients in the evening sky.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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