Tri-X 400 pushed to 1600 in Innsbruck

My next post sees me trying out the technique of ‘pushing film’ to allow me to shoot handheld during the night. We go for a walk around Innsbruck, Austria shooting a roll of Kodak Tri-X rated at ISO 1600.

One of the restrictions of film is that you are stuck with the sensitivity of the film you are shooting, particularly if shooting 35mm. My medium format (120mm film) Hasselblad camera has interchangeable backs where you can store different film types (very useful!).

Regarding film sensitivity, remember this is referred to as the film’s ISO, and the higher the number, the more sensitive the film is to light. A normal everyday ISO is ISO 400, where ISO 100 or lower is usually for bright days, and higher ISO films (ISO 800 and above) are for lower light (e.g. a night time walk) or fast moving action situations (e.g. a hockey game where you want to freeze the action).

More about the concept of ‘pushing film’

Pushing film effectively means rating the ISO of the film higher than it really is, thus allowing you to trick the camera and shoot handheld where otherwise you would probably require a tripod. It is important to remember that if you push film you do so for the entire roll, not just a couple of frames. When you are pushing film you are effectively underexposing it, so it will require additional development time to ensure it doesn’t come out completely underdeveloped.

For this post I had 1 roll of Kodak Tri-X film rated at ISO 400. I decided to shoot it at ISO 1600, hence 2 additional ‘stops"‘. A stop of light refers to doubling (or halving) the amount of light, so 400—>800—>1600, hence + 2 stops.

More about the shots

The shots were all taken in Innsbruck, Austria on Kodak Tri-X film on my Leica M2 camera with my 35mm and 50mm lenses. I didn’t have any theme in mind other than looking for some interesting compositions and opportunities to test out the idea of pushing film.

I like how bright street lights and signs come out in this shot.

As you push the entire roll you still have to shoot at ISO 1600 during the day, actually the results can be quite good, just using a smaller aperture and off you go!

Didn’t get the focus right here, but I like how it adds to the movement of the shot. This shot in particular would have been very hard at ISO 400.

I thought there would be more separation between the fog and the landscape below, but I quite like how this came out, it is quite moody because of the extra grain.

I really like how sharp this shot came out, where the sky is still quite grainy. Shot right in the middle of the day in a small village outside of Innsbruck. Notice the lack of detail in the shadows.

Staring into the light.

(…or some other funny caption).

The skater turned around just as I was going to snap this shot, but I like how his white hoody contrasts against the dark figures in the background.

A famous shot of the Dolomites is hiding somewhere behind that fog!

I like the composition of this shot, but I think shooting at ISO 1600 is not ideal for landscape photography with lots of fog - very hard to expose for! In this case I think pushing an ISO 100 film to ISO 400 would be more appropriate.

The world’s most ridiculous car design.

This shot looks radioactive!

Whilst grainy and hazy, I really enjoyed being up here taking these shots, interesting how there is plenty of detail at the bottom of the shot and less so the further up you go.

This coud definitely be the hotel from ‘ The Shining’ movie!

I really like the framing of this shot, and I suspect my friend Conor took it.

Pushing film is useful for indoor situations, like this pub in Innsbruck’s old town area, although it can generally still produce underexposed images.

I like how moody the shots can be when pushing film, as even at larger apertures (where you are letting in lots of light) you will still need a relatively slow shutter speed. Remember these are all shot handheld so typically no slower that 1/15th of a second.

Conor disagreeing about something.

That’s more like it!

Overall observations

Being able to push film is a very useful technique if you are in low light situations or require higher shutter speeds. For my type of shooting, it makes more sense to use this technique during evening shots, although it’s probably best to try to shoot the entire roll during low light situations, as I am not sure if it adds anything to normal day time shots.

Pushing film really brings out brightly lit parts of a scene and creates a great contrast with darker areas as these remain very black. The shadows do not gain any additional detail, and this can be seen quite clearly from the above shots. If you try to add shadow detail in post processing on the computer its creates an unacceptable amount of grain.

I tend to avoid flash where possible as I still consider it a form of voodoo and have not yet mastered it. I also find that automatic flash, particularly shot during the night, tends to obliterate the background and create overexposed skin tones.

Pushing film increases the contrast and grain of the film, also allowing you to shoot handheld during the evening. This fits in quite well with my shooting style and is definitely something I will be doing again if I think I will be shooting quite a few nighttime shots, places like Paris or Venice come to mind with a good contrast of bright lights and darker background scenes.

This technique, in my experience, works best with black & white film. There are some colour negative films that respond well to being pushed (in particular Cinestill 800), but overall many create too much grain. Overall though it is a simple and fun technique to try out if you are stuck without a tripod and you want to shoot handheld.

Thanks for stopping by to check out my 2nd idea of this project!

See you next time,