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Film Pushing And Pulling

Lesson 23 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

23. Film Pushing And Pulling

Next Lesson: Film Filters

Lesson Info

Film Pushing And Pulling

People wanna push and pull all the time. They say, "Oh, you know what I really wanna do? "I wanna take that 400 speed film, "and I wanna be able to shoot concert, "and it's night, it's dark, so I'm gonna "shoot it at 3200." So we go 800, 1600, 3200. Three stops underexposed. When we talk about exposure, exposure's for shadows, development's for highlights. If I push that film three stops, what am I giving up? Shadow detail. So, when you look back at some great concert photography, Pearl Jam's concert photograph is Lance Mercer. Amazing local Seattle photographer. When you look at the early work of Lance with Pearl Jam, and he's shooting concerts at night, they're not the day stadiums or whatever, a lot of very deep shadow black spots. He's had to push the film. And to say I'm gonna make sure that Eddie shows up under the right light, I gotta make the shadows, I gotta let 'em go. I've gotta make a decision to cut the shadow, because I've pushed the film. So that's the trade off. So when...

people say, "Oh, can I push the film?" You can absolutely push Tri-X. You can absolutely push HP5. You can push them both hard. You can push them both to 3200. But you give up the shadow detail. So if you come to me and you're like, "I need full shadow detail and 3200." You gotta make a choice. You're either gonna have to sacrifice a lot in highlight to get shadow detail at 3200, or you're gonna have to give up the shadows. Now, the good part is, we've been trained for 60 years. The aesthetic of that low light is deeper shadows. We think about wedding photography. Pushed film for wedding photography has those deep shadows in the cathedrals, and the churches, and the people are emerging out of the darkness. We accept that as that's okay, because we've been trained photographically to look at images like that, but it's the trade off on the side of that. On the other side of that, the pulling of the film is the over-exposing. That's what we're already doing. That's what I'm encouraging you to do already. I want you to take that film, and I want you to pull it, and pull it, and pull it, and pull it, until you get really good shadow detail, 'cause at the end of the day, I think that's what most of us would prefer to have, given the choice. Now, do I push my film sometimes? Absolutely. Now, the trade off with that is, if I've pushed the film and over-exposed, those highlights have been over-exposed, so I have to compensate that in the development. So if my normal development is 10 minutes and I'm pushing the film, I can't do it for 10 minutes, so when you work with the lab, it's the same thing with the color film. You gotta tell the lab, hey, I pushed this three stops, you need to compensate for that in the development. You have to do the same thing here. So, for the most part, pulling is where I set my normal development, then all the little stuff afterwards is in the pushing. Now, if we think back to more of the traditional way we process the zone system, and we go back to this chart, what I want is full detail here. This is my normal, three, four, five, six, seven. Now, if I'm at an eight in my range, I metered, my shadow and my highlight is three, four, five, six, seven, eight, I need my eight to become a seven. So I'm gonna compress the development by giving it less development time. That's called minus development. So instead of thinking of push and pull and the zone system, what we think about is expansion and contraction of the zone, sort of like an accordion. So what I wanna do is if I have, say, I meter my shadows at three, and my highlight stops at six, that's the plus one development. If my highlight stopped in five, I give it plus two development. Now, what I'm saying is, take the five and make it a seven. Do that by giving it more time in the developer. So, oh, I'm on the wrong slide. Go back one more. There we go. I say take my seven, make it an eight. Take my six, make it a five. So, that compression extension is plus and minus development. Normally in the zone system, we can get a plus one, minus one, plus two, minus two. Pretty easy. Almost every film combination can give you that level of expansion contraction, and hold the shadow detail. Beyond that, we get into some very specialized film development, some really advanced film processing, and certain developers and dilutions. But for the most part, we're trying that piece. So, if I have the choice of, I don't need the shutter speed to freeze action, I'm gonna try to play the plus minus game to hold the shadow detail. If I need the shutter speed, though, I'm shooting a concert, kids running around, shooting a wedding at a church. I've never shot a wedding in a church, I will refuse to shoot weddings. Nobody call me about a wedding. It's too much pressure. I crack under the pressure! I need to photograph rocks. (laughing) I try to minus for that, for that piece. So that's kinda how the film actually works. That's why we know when we say expose, develop, what's the consistency, how do we pick the times. We're looking at all these pieces.

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Ratings and Reviews


I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

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