Pushing Ilford HP-5+ to 1600 ISO

Low light shot from a wedding
Low light shot from a wedding

About a month ago we were invited to a wedding and I decided to take my camera along to work on an assignment.  The project was called “Order out of Chaos”, so I figured a wedding would present some opportunities.  The only problem was I had none of the Delta 3200 which has performed so well in low light scenarios.  But, I had plenty of HP-5+, which is a 400 ISO film, which I decided to try pushing to 1600 ISO.

First, what exactly is “pushing” a film.  Basically, you push a film by not giving it enough light by either adjusting the ISO (the easiest in my mind), the aperture, or the shutter speed.  In this case, I pushed the film two stops (400-800 = 1 stop, + 800-1600 = 1 stop).

When you push film, you need to push the entire roll.  It’s not like a digital camera where you can adjust the ISO each shot.  Why?  Because the next step you take when pushing film is to push it again during developing, which means you give it a longer developing time.  It makes sense; a film is exposed to LESS light so it needs MORE developing.  For this roll of Ilford HP-5+, I used a developing time of 18 minutes in D-76 compared to the 13 minutes I would normally use if it was shot at 400 ISO.

I wasn’t sure what to expect; I had pushed some Portra 160 and 400 one stop this summer during another wedding.  The 160 didn’t respond well – it had a greenish cast to the pictures in low light.  The 400 did OK in low light but had very nice, saturated colors with a little more contrast in average light conditions while still maintaining great skin tones.  I don’t have any low light photos I feel comfortable sharing since it was someone else’s wedding ceremony and every shot has a face in it somewhere, but I do have two of the cake at the reception from the end of a pushed roll of Portra.

Portra 400 pushed to 800 ISO
Portra 400 pushed to 800
Portra 400 pushed to 800 ISO
Portra 400 pushed to 800

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, I’m not exactly an expert a film processing, so adding my lack of skills to the mix made for a very uncertain outcome.  But overall I was pleased with the results.  The biggest thing for me was I expected the shots to be very grainy, but they weren’t. More grain than 400 ISO, but not as much as I expected.

As you can see in the contact sheet, I still had a few blurry photos where I forgot to set shutter speeds or turn on the flash, but overall I ended up with a bunch of acceptable shots.  This was a family wedding as opposed to one where I was acting as the wedding photographer for the couple, so I’m a little more comfortable sharing images.  I did not use any of these for the class assignment, though.  I’ll share those images in a few days.  Everything in this post was shot on one of my Minolta Maxxum 5’s.

I look forward to shooting some more HP-5+ in some night-time landscapes to see how it compares to Delta 3200.  At less than half the price, it seems to give almost as good results.  And it seems to push to 1600 with no problems, so maybe I’ll try it at 3200 some day.

The more I shoot this stock, the more I like it.  I processed 4 more rolls of it yesterday; 3 for an assignment and one from my recent trip to Paris.  (I also processed 2 rolls of Eastman Double-X 5222 for the same assignment, and I’ll have images and results from all of them in the coming days once I get contact sheets and enlargements printed.)

While I still plan on keeping some Svema 64, Eastman 5222 (The FPP Store has a cool deal on 19 rolls in the original can!), Delta 3200, and some various color films on hand, I’ll be surprised if there’s anything that I keep more of in my film stash than HP-5+ for quite a while – it’s just too versatile and rarely gives me a bad result.  And now that I can use it up to 1600, it’s even more versatile.  I wonder what it looks like pulled to 200 or even 100 ISO? Hmmm….

 

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