A Site for Photographers by Photographers

Community > Forums > B&W Photo - Film & Processing > Processing Film > When Push Processing is Better...

When Push Processing is Better than Fast Film

Brian Quinn , Jan 26, 2009; 10:15 p.m.

Fast film is wonderful but that is NOT what I wish to talk about here.

Faster film gives more shadow detail but shadow detail is not always necessary
nor even desirable at all times and for all scenes.

Example 1,
You are at a night club and the musicians are lit by a dim spotlight.
Slow shutter speed is not an option because the musicians are moving.
You could use a faster film but there is a lot of distracting background clutter.
Fast film will give you a print with well exposed background clutter.
Pushing a slow film will result in a print with the background is darker and less noticeable resulting in a better print.

Example 2,
A street scene with store fronts and alleys.
Perhaps you want the alleys to be dark, mysterious or even spooky.
Pushing film also works well here.

Example 3,
Let’s have some replies from you about scenes that worked for you so we may consider similar subjects in our work.

To get an idea of when to push film you have to know how it responds to your chosen developer to know what to expect. Then you can than decide when a scene in front of you would benefit from push processing a slow film rather than switching to a faster film.

I have used Xtol, Diafine and DDX and seen how different film developer combos give different results when pushed.
I like the way Diafine works with Kodak Tri-X in contrasty light.
But in low flat light I find Xtol gives me more of the result I am looking for.

Push processing is best done by you.
The equipment to develop film yourself is inexpensive and takes up little space even in a small apartment.
You can always have the lab make prints of your negatives if you do not have a full darkroom.

Don’t think of Push Processing as a poor alternative to fast film but a creative technique.
Let us share the Where, Why and How of your Push Processing.


    1   |   2     Next    Last

John Shriver , Jan 26, 2009; 10:43 p.m.

The primary advantage of push processing is that you can get somewhat finer grain than the faster film developed normally.
Otherwise, your "advantages" of push processing can also be achieved in printing. Want to lose shadow detail? Increase the paper contrast, and let the shadows burn black. Making a straight literal print of a negative is missing much of the power and flexibility of B&W printing: contrast, exposure, burn, dodge, etc.
Of course, the other way to look at pushing is as a Zone System approach. If you only want to record a narrow scene brightness range, you under-expose and over-develop.
But, if you're not working in a Zone System way, the advantage of the faster film is that you have more exposure latitude, so your exposure is less critical. Can be really helpful in a night club.
Of course, the fast films all cost more than the ISO 400 films -- that can be a perfectly justifiable reason for push processing.

Brian Quinn , Jan 26, 2009; 11:00 p.m.

Thanks for your reply John.
I agree, if you have a full darkroom (and I do) some, (but not all) of this can be done in the printing step.
My goal is to have a negative that requires only a straight print of the negative.It makes it easier when I print and as I pointed out it makes it easier for persons without a full darkroom to get the print they desire.
Still it in good to point out that the printing step can give somewhat similar results to the ones I pointed out.

John O'Keefe-Odom , Jan 26, 2009; 11:18 p.m.

I was drinking whiskey at a political rally on election night. There were three pro still photographers there; all the local TV stations, to include one "reporter" (news reader?) with smokin' hot legs; and a bunch of people who were there to watch election night on television among like-minded people.

Got some interesting effects there with the lighting. I pretty much liked the pics. Interesting with the way the light fell off from the fixtures, and got some deeper shadows. I know everyone's mantra is "shadow detail," but I don't feel that way. I want some sections in the photo with black and white. I don't feel like there's always got to be detail in there. And, well, the whole "fine grain" bit really isn't that important to me. I like grain sometimes.

The place was a big convention hall room; well lit by chandeliers. I dumped off the camera bag with this blonde chick that was there, and I took my pictures. By ditching the flash, I learned that I could operate a Pentax 645 in one hand, and Jack on the Rocks in the other. If you hold the glass in your fingers right, you can stir the ice with your finger, and adjust focus between stirs.

Now, that's photography.

Took this one after I burned through my rolls 120mm and switched over K1000 35mm. HP5+ pushed to 1600.

Couple at Obama Rally Wait for the President Elect's Victory Speech

Matthew Williams , Jan 27, 2009; 08:22 a.m.

Hi there,
Keep in mind pushing does not always have to produce ultra high contrast negatives. With the right film and developer (in this case HP5 in straight XTOL, 3 stop push - 400 to 3200) the results can be what somewhat "normal." There is certainly more grain in the image than if I hadn't pushed it, but I'm happy with the negative. I print all my stuff, but this is just a quick scan with some toning to simulate my favorite warm tone paper with selenium toning.

HP5 pushed to 3200 in XTOL

Erwin Baeyens , Jan 27, 2009; 11:51 a.m.

HP5@3200 developed in microphen stock for 16 min
No toning just a bit of sharpening and spotting of some dust.

Erwin Baeyens , Jan 27, 2009; 11:58 a.m.

forgot the pic

Surrogate Sushi Aalst 27/12/2008

Bruce Watson , Jan 27, 2009; 12:03 p.m.

Pushing, not pushing, the old addage still applies: "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights."

The twist here is that you and I may not pick the same shadows to expose for. You may pick what I think of as mid-tones, and let my shadows roll off the toe of the response curve. Ain't nothing wrong with that. You get to define shadow detail any way you want. But when you do this, you move all the image down the scale. It's not just the midtones that move to become shadow detail, but your highlights move to become midtones.

The reason we tend to develop longer when "pushing" is because the exposure we use (moving mid-tones to shadow detail) makes for a shortened tonal scale (your whole range now is shadows to midtones -- no highlights). Developing longer decompresses the tonal scale by restoring your highlights.

There's nothing wrong with any of this, as long as you recognize that this is what you are doing. One of the great joys of B&W photography is you get to manipulate it any way you want to get the results you are looking for.

Pete S. , Jan 27, 2009; 03:37 p.m.

A related question if I may? If scanning is the final step would it be better to move the midtones and highlights in photoshop or the scanner software/hardware opposed to push the development and then scan? Both methods would increase grain would they not?

Bruce Watson , Jan 27, 2009; 06:07 p.m.


IMHO, it's better to not push if you are going to scan (and never try to print it in the darkroom). If you just process it normally you end up with a very thin film, yes. But this will scan OK usually. Sometimes better than OK. The reason for that is that graininess is directly related to density. If the density is low, graininess will also be low.

Some scanners will have problems with this -- they want a wider density range on the film. This is because the hardware scans across the maximum density range it's designed for regardless, and the software then has to clip off the ends (which are empty anyway). This is sort of like scanning in six bits when what you really want is 16 bits. OTHO, a drum scanner thinks this is great -- the software tells the hardware where the black and white points are, and the hardware sets the endpoints of the log-amp circuits to accommodate. This means that the drum scanner applies its full digital range across the exact density range of the film. No more, no less. What you get out is a full range image, automatically.

So what I'm saying is... you have to experiment and see what works best in your workflow with your equipment.

    1   |   2     Next    Last

Back to top

Notify me of Responses