In episode 49 of Matt Loves Cameras film photography podcast I talk about pushing colour negative film with the Fujifilm Natura f1.9 and the Fujifilm Klasse S. Listen by pressing play above or by searching for Matt Loves Cameras in your favourite podcast app.
What is pushing and pulling film?
Pushing and pulling film are photographic techniques that involve two steps. First of all, you need to shoot your roll of film at a different ISO speed to what’s on the box (box speed). Secondly, and most crucially, something needs to happen during the development of the film for it to be considered pushed or pulled.
There’s no such thing as pushing and pulling film “in-camera”
If you only do the first step listed above – that is, you shoot Kodak Portra 400 at ISO 200, and then you get it developed as normal – that is not pushing film. All you’re doing there is overexposing the roll by one stop. I hear a lot of people refer to what they’re doing as pushing or pulling film “in-camera” – but there is no such thing.
How do I set my camera up so I can have my colour film pushed?
Let’s look at an in-depth example of pushing colour film. Grab a camera where you can set the ISO yourself and which has automatic exposure. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s pick the Canon AF 35 ML, which is a beautiful yet clunky early 1980s point and shoot.
On the camera set the ISO to 400, but then load up a roll of Kodak Gold 200. When you start shooting, the camera will choose shutter speeds according to the film speed that you set – ISO 400. In fairly bright light, the shutter speed might be say 1/250 second.
But in reality, it’s Kodak Gold 200, it’s rated at ISO200, it really needs twice as much light. A shutter speed twice as long – which would be 1/125 second – would’ve been the correct shutter speed if you had set the ISO selector on the camera to the film’s box speed of 200.
So you go around shooting that roll of film in your Canon AF 35 ML and if you’re anything like me, you will have shot the whole roll in no time. So far, the whole roll is one stop underexposed. The ISO 400 selector made the camera choose faster shutter speeds than the ISO 200 film needed, so not as much light was exposed onto the film.
Now colour print film like Kodak Gold 200 has a good exposure latitude, so if you did this whole process by accident, typically one stop underexposed wouldn’t be a huge problem. But what if you’re not happy with that? Or what if you did this whole process on purpose to push the film? Easy, have your film pushed. Before we get to the next step, make sure you mark your finished roll of film with a marker pen so you can remember which one needs pushing.
Find a lab to push your film
Find a lab that can push colour negative (C41) film. Usually it costs a little bit more, the lab I use – Ikigai in Melbourne – charges $3 a roll extra. Look at your lab’s website, or get in contact before you send your film in.
What do I tell my lab to do for pushing colour negative film?
How much you ask your lab to push your film is measured in stops – a stop is a doubling or halving of light. So in the case of us shooting Kodak Gold 200 at ISO 400, we’d need to push it 1 stop. If we shot the roll of Kodak Gold 200 at ISO 800, we’d need to have it pushed 2 stops.
Make sure you let the lab know which roll you need pushed when you send it in. As above, mark it on the canister and give them specific instructions, don’t leave it to chance.
What does the lab do when they push colour negative film?
When the lab pushes colour negative film, they will either change the temperature of the developer, or they will leave the film in the developer longer. This change in the development process will compensate for the film not getting as much exposure when you shot it.
Note that this process doesn’t add more light to the image, the only way you can do that is in camera.
What effect does pushing have on colour negative film?
Typically when you push colour film it increases grain, contrast, and saturation. With that increase in contrast, highlights become brighter and shadows become darker.
What is pulling film?
If you did this whole process the other way round, the process is called pulling film. For example, just say you shot ISO 200 film at ISO 100, that would overexpose your roll of film by one stop. Most colour negative films have a wide exposure latitude, so overexposing your film by adding an extra stop of light is very common. A lot of film photographers love the look of overexposed colour negative film.
If for some reason you weren’t happy with that, you could in theory ask the lab to pull your film one stop. Having said that, most labs do not recommend that you pull colour negative film. It often results in the negatives looking flat and with less contrast. Pulling film is much more common with black and white film.
Fujifilm Natura Black f1.9 sample images
Below are some sample images from the Fujifilm Natura Black f1.9 loaded with Lomography 800 colour negative film.
I can’t set the ISO on the Natura, so I had to fool the camera into thinking it had ISO 1600 film inside it. I bought some ISO 1600 DX code stickers and put that on my Lomo 800 film canister. I knew the sticker had worked when the NP (Natural Photo) symbol appeared on the back of the camera. Natural Photo mode is activated automatically on the Natura when you load ISO 1600 speed or faster film. The camera automatically shoots wide open at f1.9 and adds exposure compensation to make natural looking photos without flash.
After I finished the roll, I asked my lab to push the film 1 stop in development.
Fujifilm Klasse S photos
The Fujifilm Klasse S is a very advanced premium point and shoot. No ISO 1600 stickers were needed here, I dialled in ISO 1600 into the camera’s menu before loading my Lomo 800. I then asked the lab to push the film one stop in development.