Pushing B&W Film

August 3, 2021

Pushing film is something that is done in development and in development only. It is not something that happens with exposure or scanning and cannot be adjusted once the roll has been developed. There are a couple of ways to push film. By increasing the temperature of the developer, or by adjusting the time the film is left in the developer. The reason one would push film is if you underexposed your film either intentionally or unintentionally at the time of capture or you are trying to achieve some sort of artistic effect on the final image. Pushing increases grain and contrast, making the blacks blacker and the whites whiter without affecting the mid-tones of your image. You can push black & white film as many stops as you want, but it’s most common to push between one and three stops.

Why Push Black & White Film?

There are many reasons why one would choose to push their black & white film. Pushing increases contrast, so for some photographers, the aesthetic they achieve when pushing film is reason enough. For most photographers, the choice to push is the deciding factor between capturing an image or not.

For example, let’s say you’re shooting a low light scene and your camera is loaded with Ilford HP5, which has a box speed of 400. Your light meter tells you to shoot f2.8 at 1/8th. It’s virtually impossible to hand hold your camera steady at 1/8th of a second and your lens won’t let you go below a 2.8 aperture. So what can you do? To get the shot you rate you 400 speed film at 3200 instead and shoot 2.8 at 1/60th. After shooting the roll you mark it with a +3 for the lab to push it 3 stops in development. In this scenario, you under- exposed your roll by three stops by doubling your ISO three times. Keep in mind that the number of stops you underexpose should match the number of stops you push in development: underexposing by 1 stop would equate to 1 push in development, 2 stops would be 2 pushes in development, etc.

Things to be Aware of When Pushing B&W Film.

One of the most common issues when people push for the first time is underexposed frames. This is typically because most photographers that began with digital associate increasing ISO with overexposing, or making the sensor more sensitive to light. Rating film at a higher ISO than box speed is underexposing. Doubling your ISO equates one stop in underexposure. Something else to keep in mind with pushing is that it is still crucial for there to be some sort of light source to light your scene and/or subject.If you’re shooting at night and there is no light falling on your scene, pushing your image will only make it darker and may result in no shadow detail at all.

Final Thoughts

If you’re new to pushing black & white film, we recommend starting out with Ilford HP5. Both new and more seasoned photographers alike really enjoy the latitude of Ilford HP5. We have in many occasions pushed this film 3-4 stops and still yielded incredible results!

Rachel & Noah Ray

Rachel and Noah Ray are natural light film photographers based in Birmingham, AL. They married in 2009 and began freelancing together the same year. After about 5 years of that they felt it was time to transition into full-time wedding & family photography so they launched Rachel & Noah Ray Photography in September of 2014.

The full-time photography gig has been hectic and overwhelming at times but it has brought the two of them closer together and continues to push them to greater things. They love to capture real moments of love as they unfold, so whether that is here in their home state or half way across the world the one constant they will always seek is love & people.


Bridesmaid Dress: Cicinia.co.uk

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