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Get your own Ilford HP5 to experiment from Amazon: Ilford HP5 35mm Film (affliate link)

I have been pushing HP5 from 400 to 1600 for a while now. I finally decided to see how it would react to 3 stops underexposure. Turns out it handles it pretty well. The grain is pleasing and the blacks are inky. The contrast is manageable when there is a lot of available light. If you have a roll laying around I highly recommend cranking the ISO on your meter (in camera or external) to 3200 and get going.


What does it mean to “push” film. Does it give you the same flexibility as digital? Nope. Here is a little background if you are new to film. If you already have a handle on this, feel free to skip the next paragraph.


Film Speed


When it comes to shooting film, each film stock has an ISO rating, it’s speed, that lets the photographer know how sensitive the film is to light. There is an inverse relationship between the number and the amount of light the film needs and grain size. The smaller the number the more light you need the larger the number the less light you need. A good rule of thumb is this ISO 0-200 should have lots of light, like a bright sunny day outdoors. ISO 400-800 can be used on a cloudy day or evening/indoors with lights on. ISO 1600-3200 can be used in the “dark” like a club concert or low light situations. There may be film rated above 3200, but I don’t know that I have seen it before.


The thing to remember is the higher the ISO the more pronounced the grain in the image will be. Different film stocks handle the grain in high ISO film differently. I find the I like the grain structure of Ilford HP5 and Delta. Kodak Tri-X is another good option.


Pushing Film


Pushing film simply means to underexpose the film. Film has a really wide exposure latitude, negative films anyways, and can handle being underexposed by as much as 3 stops and overexposed, pulled, by 2 at least. These are just general guidelines, feel free to experiment.


So how do you push film? The easiest way is to load the film in your camera and set the ISO on the camera to whatever ISO you want to shoot with. It’s easier with older, mechanical cameras, it can be done with newer DX coded cameras, you can usually set the ISO via a menu or button.


Setting the ISO to something other than box speed or the speed the film is rated for, tells the light meter to read for that ISO speed. This will allow for exposure at small apertures and faster shutter speeds in light lower than you would be able to shoot at a box rated speed. Once you start shooting at a given ISO you have to stick with that for the rest of the roll. You should not change your ISO mid roll. The film will not develop the way you want it too.


The photographer should be careful to meter the scene correctly. Since underexposing will almost always leave the shadows and dark areas totally black or way underexposed. It’s best to aim for midtones to get the correct exposure. If you want to lose the shadow detail then meter for the highlights. If there is a lot of dark areas in the photo there will be more grain in that part of the image. If grain bothers you, film is probably not for you.

Get your own Ilford HP5 to experiment from Amazon: Ilford HP5 35mm Film (affliate link)



Color vs Black and White


Color negative film can be pushed also. I have not had as much luck with this since home development for C-41 color film is a one time for all speeds process. I tried pushing some Portra 400 to 800 and developed as normal and it was not good. I should have developed a little longer. A good lab should be able to handle this for you, but you will need to let them know you pushed the film.


With developing black and white at home, it’s a little easier. You just develop the film at the speed you shot it at and adjust the time accordingly. The higher the ISO the longer the film needs to be in the developer. When I pushed the 400 to 3200 I had to use a stronger dilution of developer chemicals to keep the time reasonable.


Developing Pushed Film at Home


Here was my process using Ilford HC Developer. Ilford Rapid Fixer and Kodak HypoClear Rinse. I develop in a 2 reel Patterson tank like this one:


Patterson Universal Developing Tank (Amazon Affiliate Link)


Start with the developer mixed at a 1:15 dilution. (40ml of HC Developer to 560ml of 68 degree F water)


Development Time: 11:00 minutes (agitate for the first 30 seconds then every minute after that for 10 seconds – gently)


Stop Bath: 1 minute with 68 degree tap water with a little light agitation


Rapid Fixer: 5 minutes at room temp: I have this premixed and just pour in enough to cover the reels


(Film is light proof at this point)


Hypo Clear: 2 minutes – I have a gallon jug of this, I use 120ml of fixer to 480ml of water


Final Wash: 10 minutes of running 68 degree water


If you choose to send your film to a lab to be developed, let them know that you pushed the film so they can adjust their development process accordingly. If you don’t you will find some pretty unusable images on your negatives.


Photo Examples:


I shot these with my Nikon F3 and the Nikon Nikkor 50mm 1.8 AI-s lens. Ilford HP5 400 pushed to 3200 developed in Ilford HC by me.

Get your own Ilford HP5 to experiment from Amazon: Ilford HP5 35mm Film (affliate link)





Will pushing film give you the exposure latitude of a digital camera? No. But it is one more thing to add as you explore film photography. It’s a great look to experiment with until you get comfortable with it. I look forwarding to seeing your results. Feel free to tag me on Instagram or leave me a link in the comments.

You can get your own Ilford HP5 to experiment with at Amazon (affiliate link, I get a small commission)

Get your own Ilford HP5 to experiment from Amazon: Ilford HP5 35mm Film (affliate link)