You took a great roll of film at a friend’s house party only to realize that there wasn’t enough lighting and all your photos look like poo. It happens. Especially when you are working in all manual with no flash. So what do you do? There are a plethora of ways to solve this dilemma! The one I want to talk about it is “pushing”. Pushing is simply rating the ISO setting on your camera faster than what the film is designed for.
Film rolls have numbers on the sides of them. Most commonly 100, 400, 800 and 3200. 100 is used for shooting in bright settings such as a sunny day, while 3200 is used for shooting in lower light like a bar or a party. They can’t be used interchangeably because the ISO of the film, or the speed of the film, is designed to work alongside your aperture and shutter speed.
On a regular manual SLR, like the faithful Canon AE-1, there is a knob on the right with the ISO settings. You are supposed to make sure it is set to match whatever number your film roll says. So if you are shooting 400 speed film, which is what I normally shoot with, your knob has to be set to 400 in order for your light meter to work.
Just kidding, it’ll work if it doesn’t match. If you only have 100 speed film you can set your ISO dial to something higher, like 200 or 400 in order to capture fast movement or low light settings. Keep in mind though, once your film is pushed you cannot go back and change it in the middle of your roll. When film is pushed it is underexposed by a stop or two, so keep this in mind when developing as it will need extra time. If you are getting your film developed at a lab, I recommend professional labs only for this, tell them what speed you pushed it to and they will know how to handle it.
Pushing isn’t that hard, right? Now we can talk about Pulling!
Pulling is the opposite of pushing. Pulling is where you make the film slower than the speed it is designed at. For example, taking 400 speed film and lowering it to 200 will reduce contrast and slightly overexpose it. It’s not as common but I figured if I taught you how to pull I should also teach you how to do the opposite. I personally think the results are pretty.
So what was the point of all of this? Well, for one thing you won’t have to worry if you have the wrong film speed because now you know how to bump it up (or tone it down!). You will have more control over your camera and the way your film looks which in my opinion is crucial in developing (haha, get it, developing?) your own personal style.
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