Portra 400 at EI 1600 pushed two stops
I recently wrote about shooting my first roll of Portra 400, which I had shot at EI 800 and pushed a stop. There were a few commenters who seemed surprised at the results of pushing this film one stop, which surprised me as I have always had great results from both naturally underexposing film, and chemically pushing after shooting.
I think there is sometimes an assumption that underexposure is seen as a “risky move” which is a shame, because it means that many photographers end up refusing to shoot film in troublesome light situations, opting for comfort over potentially unusable images. In my experience as long as there is light, and a rough stab for correct exposure to that light, the film will record it, and enough chemical pushing will give you a scannable negative – within reason, of course.
I decided shoot my next few rolls of Kodak Portra at EI 1600 – which I knew I would be shooting in a low light environment – two stops higher than the box speed of 400. Low light does not mean no light. I think that the high dynamic range of digital sensors, along with the natural amount of post processing that goes along with shooting digital has spoiled some photographers (including myself!) in their capacity to pull detail out of the shadows. However this has also led to the rise of some excellent low light photographers who’s “look” would not exist without this extreme latitude. Nevertheless, metering for low-light photography on film has been one of the trickiest things for me to learn, and it’s something I’m sure I’ll continue to work on as time goes by.
London in the winter can leave very little time in the day with workable sunlight, and night gathers very early. This means if I’m to capture any kind of useable image at all in the style I’m trying to achieve that I make the most of my pushed film. Higher ISO ratings are very useful when lighting conditions are otherwise unreliable, and helped me to keep my exposures fairly even when metering. If anything I feel like I should have pushed most of these rolls to 3200, as I was very happy with the results from ones I did, and wouldn’t have had to make compromises in shutter speed in a few shots.
I don’t currently develop any of my own C41 film, so I had to find a lab which would be happy to push my film chemically – not as easy as I thought it would be. I eventually found a place in Hatton Garden, and have never been disappointed in the results.
The quality of the images is very good, and very useable for my purposes. I have printed some of these up to A2, and the grain and tones have a wonderful aesthetic to my eye. Sometimes there is a yellowish colour cast, but this is easily removable in photoshop during the scanning process. There is also a slight colour shift. in the shadows especially, but again this is nothing that can’t be adjusted in post.
I’m impressed by the high latitude of Portra 400, and think it really deserves it’s reputation as one of the best all-round films available to date. As long as exposure is close and light is used appropriately images will come through as the photographer intended.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts on pushing Portra 400 to 1600! If you’ve enjoyed my work here please consider following me on Instagram!