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Push/Pull Exposure and Development


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Hey, all. Been shooting digital for 20+ years and Leica for 10, including the M9M. Recent I’ve decided to try my hand at film, something I haven’t done since my college years and so I bought an M3, vintage 1955 and had it serviced by DAG. 

I intend to shoot Tri-X for the foreseeable future both because I like the look and because I can learn how this film behaves. This raises the question of push vs pull processing. 

As I understand this, pushing film involves shooting at a higher ASA than box speed and then processing at the higher ASA number. So, 400ASA film shot as if it were 800 ASA film is the pushed 1 stop and it would be developed as if it were 800ASA film. Is this correct? 

Pulled is the obverse, shooting 400ASA as if it were 200ASA and then also processing as if we’re 200ASA. 

Are both these statements correct? 

Also, when would I push or pull? A friend of mine told me to pull in daylight to fully expose shadows and push at night to crush the shadows and get higher contrast and more grain, or opposite? 

Thanks in advance. 

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Don’t push or pull until you have got used to how the film looks with standard development. Get back into using a developer and film combination that you like before deviating from the normal.

pushing to increase the speed will increase the contrast, pulling will soften the contrast and reduce the film speed. Better to use a faster film to start with if you want more speed and use a soft working, speed reducing developer if you want less speed. Faster films tend to be lower in contrast while slower films, such as Ilford Pan F tend to have higher contrast and be trickier to get right.

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If you want to dive into Tri-X I want to share my experience that Tri-X is not what is was before 2008. I’ve had, since then, several experiences of unpredictability with Tri-X and HC110.  Apart from that, the new carrier of the emulsion curls enormously when drying, which makes it quite irritant with wet prints , and scanning. So now you’re at the start I would severely consider a brand from a steady enterprise, like Ilford, not cheap either but reliable. It’s true that HP5+ or Delta400 do not by far have the sympathetic image character like Tri-X had, but if you’re looking for nice grain, you can also think of the Delta3200 and pull it to 1600, which is less far away from what a film can do than pushing Tri-X above 400.

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8 hours ago, AceVentura1986 said:

 

Also, when would I push or pull? A friend of mine told me to pull in daylight to fully expose shadows and push at night to crush the shadows and get higher contrast and more grain, or opposite? 

 

There is still an opening for box ISO and 'normal' development, like most of the time if you are looking for your own datum point from which you can judge push / pull development.

Your friend is trying to get you tied up in knots. Consider all the variables that follow on from simple metering, some people make a truly average reading, some take one from the shadows, in difficult light some do it from a grey card. This sets in motion a whole raft of consequences depending on the film you are using, the developer you have at home, times, temperatures etc. The aim should really be to find an average thats gets you by day in day out, sunlight or cloudy. It's a roll of 36, so wake up in the morning and it may be dull and raining and you pulled or pushed the roll the day before, so are you going to cut the film in half to process it?  

Stick to good habits like consistency in metering and then look at your negatives and see which direction they need to go, aiming for a technique that averages out everything you do during processing to achieve a density you can work with, darkroom or scanning etc. It will also help in understanding when to override the cameras meter with more or less exposure.  Push or pull processing can then be tried but you won't be comparing the results with moving goalposts. 

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Late to this thread ... but, you've  been given excellent advice! This seems like the "tail wagging the dog."  I would only add: Ask what is it you want to achieve? By that, what does "success" look like for you. Would you recognize the desired result if you saw it? 

It's a personal matter of workflow/style, but I always begin with "what is it (this project, portfolio, etc.) about?" Then, how will I know if my images are moving in the right direction? And this question might involve matters of "texture," such as grain, tonal rendering, etc. At this point, maybe I'd consider film stock, developer options, etc. But, and again this is specific to me, it's more likely that the answers I would seek would be found in the choice of subject matter, location, and composition. This results in fewer variables, albeit more difficult to resolve.

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I also like Xtol...

I would agree with the general advice given against using pushes and pulls. I have shot film in all formats up to 8x10 for twenty years, run a lab, and in that time I have had to push or pull only in rare circumstances. Of course I get given pushed or pulled film, but it is rarely necessary unless you are traveling or are doing something you could not plan well for, like event photography.

Generally, I would recommend exposing your film around the recommendations of the film manufacturer themselves. Kodak and Ilford have excellent data sheets available on their websites about their films and chemicals, and honestly, as a lab owner I can say that if you pay attention to those sheets, that is really 90% of what you need to know.

If you would like some more flexibility, I would recommend starting with Tmax 400. In my opinion it is a far superior film to Tri-X or HP5, which seems to be what most people first gravitate towards because of a lot of people seem to have heard of it. They seem to me to be more like the Starbucks of film. They are everywhere and a lot of people certainly seem to like it, but there are far better things to be found if you go looking. Tmax 400 is still film, so don't listen to people saying it has too "modern" a look...compared to digital it does not look modern. Compared to other films it has a very large tonal range, very low grain, and the newer version is quite forgiving in developing and exposure. Kodak themselves recommend unchanged developing settings for a 1 stop push, so you can just expose it at ISO 800 and develop as normal with very little noticeable difference. If you want a classic looking film, I personally like Fp4, PanF or even the foma films better than Tri-X for that duty. Tri-X is fine, of course, it is just not particularly better than most anything else.

Here is an example of Tmax 400 showing its nice tonal range and look...shot on the move, handheld, so the box speed was helpful.

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Pushing and Pulling are misnomers in my universe. Pushing = underexposing, and Pulling = overexposing.

No amount of fumbling with developers will negate that basic fact. All films have an inherent sensitivity, and that does not change.

Either expose for the box speed, or better yet do a personal film speed test (as per Ansel Adams). Many people find that they settle on 200ASA as their personal film speed for Tri-X. But ideally you should do your own test.

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I agree that the tabular grain films (Kodak Tmax and Ilford Delta) are superior in many ways to conventional films (TriX, FP4, HP5, etc.).  However, IME, the tabular grain films are less forgiving of exposure and processing variables.  This is why I would suggest avoiding tabular grain films until you get your camera and darkroom operations settled in (exposures, agitation, temperatures, chemistry, etc.).  That way, you'll have better success in the early days.  By that I mean, a higher percentage of easily printable negatives.  It can be rather frustrating when you get thin negatives, low contrast, color tints, etc.

Having said all this, and with over 20-years of darkroom experience, I still prefer Ilford HP5 over all other films.  It is a 'film of all seasons".  The same thing can be said for TriX, of course.

Whenever in doubt, overexpose a stop or so.

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I opt for the combat survival version of the Zone System: To push (for really flat overcast days, or after hours), underexpose by one stop and overdevelop by 50 percent. You can lose some shadow detail, but on flat days there isn't much shadow detail to start with. To pull (for really high contrast scenes, like stinking desert or high mountain scenes with a lot of snow), overexpose by one stop and underdevelop by 25 percent.

But most times I think I'll have to push or pull my standard film (HP5+), I'll bring some TMZ for the push scenes, FP4+ for the pull scenes, and develop them normally.

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Before you dive into the Zone System, just start with incident light metering. That will give you an anchor to rule out things when you meet unexpected outcomes in the first stage of discovering films.  I use a lovely Gossen Digisix ii along with my M4, very handy. 

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Just another thing that came to mind based on Danner's comments...one thing that is seriously underplayed is that your developing and exposure technique will likely differ depending on whether you are primarily shooting for darkroom prints or planning to scan. If you plan only to do darkroom prints (or primarily), then you would be well advised to give the film a bit more exposure. The classic "overexpose, underdevelop" mantra was really geared to making fairly dense negatives that printed well in the darkroom. If you are scanning, slightly thinner negatives will give you more manageable highlights and finer grain (within reason...your shadows will get really grainy if you underexpose too much). If you are not sure, I would advise starting out with the box speed and the instructions from the data sheet. Give that a few rolls in different conditions, and if you see something you are not happy with, then adjust.

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3 hours ago, Stuart Richardson said:

Just another thing that came to mind based on Danner's comments...one thing that is seriously underplayed is that your developing and exposure technique will likely differ depending on whether you are primarily shooting for darkroom prints or planning to scan. If you plan only to do darkroom prints (or primarily), then you would be well advised to give the film a bit more exposure. The classic "overexpose, underdevelop" mantra was really geared to making fairly dense negatives that printed well in the darkroom. If you are scanning, slightly thinner negatives will give you more manageable highlights and finer grain (within reason...your shadows will get really grainy if you underexpose too much). If you are not sure, I would advise starting out with the box speed and the instructions from the data sheet. Give that a few rolls in different conditions, and if you see something you are not happy with, then adjust.

With 35mm size negatives I wouldn’t aim to overexpose, dense negatives are not ideal for darkroom printing. A stop or so extra on large format is ok, but not for 35mm.

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10 hours ago, otto.f said:

Before you dive into the Zone System, just start with incident light metering. That will give you an anchor to rule out things when you meet unexpected outcomes in the first stage of discovering films.  I use a lovely Gossen Digisix ii along with my M4, very handy. 

I use incident metering almost all the time. It only seems to be fooled on overcast days with flat contrast subjects when it tends to give over exposure.

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51 minutes ago, Pyrogallol said:

I use incident metering almost all the time. It only seems to be fooled on overcast days with flat contrast subjects when it tends to give over exposure.

Yes, 2/3 over in that case, IME with the digisix. 

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