Pushing Black & White Film

I have recently gone through some re-organization of my film archive and noticed that one of my first few rolls of film, in fact number 2, was Tmax 400. I shot it in my Ricoh GR1v and had it developed at a local lab. I was new to film and new to the GR1v, which is now broken beyond repair. The GR1v reads the Dx code on the film canister and sets the ISO speed automatically. I thought I had no choice but shoot it at that speed. I now understand that you can just set the exposure compensation to -2 stops for example. The other more laborious method is to mess with the Dx code on the film canister. I never understood why people went that far when you can just set exposure compensation.

Going through a lot more of my old negatives I also noticed how my negatives changed over time. The ones I shot in the GR1v looked a lot thicker and better than what I got from my Leica M6 at the time. Those looked all thin and underexposed. How could that be? Wasn't the Leica the superior camera? I started looking into further notes I took for each roll of film. Of course! Every roll I put through the M6 was pushed two stops. That explains the thin negatives. At the time I was reading too much on the internets about "the masters of photography" and how they always pushed their film to get the "gritty look of street photography" and how developing the film longer could make up for underexposure. All BS, as I understand it now. 

Film speed is set at manufacturing time and cannot be changed. Well, different developers will give you slightly different results, but at most you gain or lose half a stop. No way can you make up for a two stop underexposure in development. This is not some theory of mine. I came to learn this empirically when I started to print more of my negatives in the darkroom. It soon became apparent which negatives were better to print. You guessed it right. It's always the one that got exposed correctly. You CAN get a print out of an underexposed negative. Sure you can. It will only take a lot of tweaking to get an acceptable print. And even when you get to a passable print you are kind of stuck with that version of the print. If you enlarge from a properly exposed negative you all of a sudden have options. If  all you want is a passable print, you can now do this much faster with much less messing around. If you in 10 years let's say change your mind and don't like that contrasty street photography look anymore, you can now enlarge your picture again, but this time give it more exposure and/or a softer filter. And we all change our minds don't we?

  • More exposure = thicker negative. Less exposure = thinner negative. 
  • Thicker negative = more information. Thinner negative = less information.

Pushed film ALWAYS gives thin negatives!

If you like the contrasty or dark look you can always take away from the information. If you are starting with a thin negative there is nothing you can do. You cannot add information that wasn't captured. Don't listen to the internets telling your what the masters did back in the days. Get a copy of "The darkroom cookbook" or "The negative" and figure out your personal film speed. Yes, it is technical. Photography has always been technical.