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Film Processing

Film TypesFirstly, we need to delve a little into the background on film types.

There are many types of photographic film – 35mm colour negative, Black & White negative, Transparency, Infra Red … and that’s not including medium format!

Negative film is just that – it records the image in a negative and requires to be printed onto photographic paper to be able to see the true (positive) image.

Black and White film is a negative film that again records the image in negative form – this time in black and white.

Transparency film (or slide film) records the image in a positive form (i.e. Opposite to a traditional negative). It looks like a miniature photograph and will usually come back from the processing lab in a small frame. This can be projected onto a screen (or wall) or printed onto photographic paper.

Infra Red film records everything in infra red and can produce very startling results! Obviously it’s not an everyday film and is usually used by photo enthusiasts looking to create something a bit different!

It’s important to realise that the processing of the film from the camera is one process while the making of prints is a completely different and separate process. And as such, both can be manipulated to our advantage.

All films come with an ISO rating (see article ISO Rating) which simply put is the sensitivity rating of the film. In lower light conditions you will need a higher ISO rated film to be able to photograph without electronic flash.

ISO Film RatingsBut this rating is not set in stone – it’s the recommended rating only. Now, while the film will operate at its best when set at this rating, it is possible to uprate or downrate the film for effect.

So, for instance, if you had ISO rated 200 speed film, but rated it at ISO 800 on your camera, you would get another 2 stops of light (see Aperture) to work with. In effect, what we are doing is underexposing the film by 2 stops.

Now for colour negative film this is not a problem – the machines used to process this in photo labs can automatically adjust for up to 2 stops of underexposure. Any more than that though and be sure to tell the lab operator that the film is deliberately underexposed. Depending on the lab they may be able to correct it, but you may need to bring it to a professional lab to have it done. This is known as push or pull processing.

Black and White film is the more sensitive to this. But if you are processing the film at home in your own darkroom, it is very easy to correct. The length of development time is all that changes – but more of that in another article.

For slides or transparency film it is also very critical and you will most likely need to use a professional lab to have it processed.

Push processing film in this manner increases the graininess of the film and in the case of colour film, increases the colour saturation. Pull processing (or processing at less than the recommended ISO rating generally will have the reverse effect).
The effects you get doing this are very film specific – different film brands give different effects. So I suggest you try out different brands to find an effect you like.

Film Type

Process Type


35mm colour negative


Most familiar 35mm film

Transparency (Slides)


Produces positive image

B&W negative


Can be home processed with ease

This is just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more formats, processes and film types. Then you can cross process films from one category into the next. And even some Black & White films that can be processed in C-41! The varieties can be endless.


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