Black, White & The Nostalgia of Film
It seems like it was a good long time ago, that I would pop into Boots the chemist and easily acquire some Kodak black & white film. It was easy. I even procured a knowledge of this film through thorough reading of company fact sheets, countless magazines and comprehensive scientific data.
This knowledge has somewhat turned out like the algebra teachings.
This forgotten knowledge was called "Pushing and Pulling Film", this is something that has been made redundant in modern technologies of digital photography. Our modern photography, we or our camera, sets up the ISO sensitivity according to our lighting situations. If the subject is too dark try heightening the ISO and vise versa if the subject is too bright.
This automation and ease has already made "worrying" about the ISO a thing of the past; with improvements in technology even the ridiculous high number ISOs can still produce good quality images.
But not in film formats.
When in those days one would joyfully bound into Boots and pick up a roll of Black & White film one would have to ponder, "what am I using this for?"
As a general rule one would use a slower ISO (ISO 100) for portraits, landscapes or somewhere where the subject is well lighted or choose a higher ISO (ISO 800) for sports, action or low light situations.
So what if you only had enough money for one film and you wanted to shoot sports and portraits on the roll? Well instead of just simply changing the ISO in the camera you had to "push" or "pull" the ISO on the film instead.
Essentially if you had a roll of ISO 200 and needed to lighten the film for lower light, this is called "pushing". You are extending the guide ISO (or ASA if you are pedantic) of the film.
But also... one needed to tell the developing company to "push" to the ISO you used for it to work.
Example. I use ISO 200 film and "push" it to 1600. I then would have to develop the film as if it was ISO 1600.
You had to then commit to this speed for the entire roll of film used, as was the problem of having an entire 36 exposures on one device. Primitive eh?! The same is said for "pulling" the film in which it has an opposite effect of darkening the image.
What I really adore is the effect this has on black & white films, also as a double measure, the process was much more forgiving in finished results and easier to do than for colour films.
It is subjective appreciation for using black and white instead of colour photographs and I am a big fan of using it. I feel black & white can bring in added drama and highlight finer details far more vividly than subjects shot in colour.
Currently I have been experimenting in trying to emulate different films that I have brought up the case of my nostalgia. It is all too easy now to fine tune photographs in Photoshop or Lightroom to what best pleases our eye, but having to appreciate a more "fixed" result of film feels much more challenging and ultimately rewarding.
You can see the results of "pushing and pulling" film simply by looking at old newspapers or past photographers. One example is looking at some of the works from Dave Heath, a black and white portrait photographer.
Looking closely at Heath's shots we will be able to see that shadows and mid-tones have a slight lift to them. Blacks are not deep and mid-tones show a few more details. This and the fact that grain is more pronounced displays the characteristics of "pushing".
So I happen to be experimenting around in both Photoshop and Lightroom to try and emulate the characteristics of this push and pull technique.
But of course it is never that easy as there are dozens of films that give other characteristic. When I would be shooting black & white there were several films that I would choose. These would be Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, Ilford Delta, Ilford HP5 and one gem that I found was Ferrania P30.
Each of these films have different characteristics. smaller or larger grains, deeper black, whiter whites, ultimately it can all get confusing and one needed a knowledge of these films to know what the end result would be.
So what I have done below is to try and emulate these film characteristics in Adobe software. This is my interpretation and I hope that it is accurate to what it would actually look were it were film.