I'm new to film photography (~4 months in) and happened to have questions regarding on how to achieve a particular look. I'm not necessarily looking to emulate the look, rather, understand what went into it and how those particular choices influenced the outcome of the images. Here are a couple of examples:

https://i.stack.imgur.com/oKyLl.jpg (the first is an Edward Weston one and the rest I simply found off the internet).

How does one achieve that hazy, soft, low-contrast, but, at the same time, somewhat overexposed look? Is this something that one would achieve while shooting? In the darkroom?

I remember reading somewhere how, for the Edward Weston one, one could achieve the "soft focus" look through the means of a pantyhose or a bit of vaseline rubbed around one's lens, but as for the other ones, I have no clue.

Any particular suggestions, explanations on what went on to achieve the images, or aid would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Also heard that David Hamilton (famous NSFW photographer of the 70s) used the pantyhose technique. In practice anything that is not fully opaque and is sufficiently out of focus is so blurry that its just reduces contrast in the picture. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Mar 11, 2023 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I had a set of notes regarding Hamilton: "asa200 push 200 to 800 in post - bright light windows - f2 all the time" \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2023 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ i tend to shoot like this all the time (digitally) - clients all hate it, so obviously just for me. I use physical filters like pro mist (but low contrast filter was overkill) etc as i hate having to sit in front of the pc more than i have to (to the 'do it in post' crowd, i had a career in 'post' and now hate it lol). \$\endgroup\$ Mar 12, 2023 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


Reduced contrast is generally achieved with film by developing less than "normal" -- this produces a lower slope on the linear portion of H/D plot (that is, less increase in negative density for a given increase in log exposure), which we see as less contrast. In Zone terms, by developing less, you keep the low zones nearly the same, but the higher exposure zones develop to lower values.

Going along with this is the need to expose more in order to provide correct high values in the positive (print or scan). Together, exposing more and developing less are referred to as a "pull" -- the opposite of "push" in which film is knowingly underexposed and overdeveloped to compensate (perhaps because the light level is too low for the available film and lens combination, or perhaps in order to boost contrast on a low contrast scene).

One relatively common application of pull processing is to produce a "high key" image -- low contrast development combined with higher than normal exposure, then printing at high contrast to bring out only selected features of the image.

In older images, another factor may enter into a "soft contrast" image: lens flare. Prior to the early 1940s, lenses did not receive anti-reflection coatings (the process hadn't been invented yet), so each glass surface interface resulted in light scattering, which (especially with a bright area in view relative to the main exposure) tended to fill in shadow areas and reduce overall contrast. This is also why pre-War lenses were usually designed to avoid high element counts -- triplets, 4-element Tessar types and 5-element Heliars, the largest element count that was at all common before 1945 was the six-element Xenon (I have one, it's an awesome lens, but it does flare some against the light).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Harold Dennis Taylor patented the basic process that was use to coat lenses throughout the 20th century in 1904. It didn't catch on for small formats (e.g. 135 format 'Full Frame') for several decades, but it was around and available for large and medium format well before the 1940s. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 12, 2023 at 5:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zeiss Ikon, thank you for your answer. I was curious: how does one know -- and I know that this totally varies on film, exposure, etc -- how much one should "pull" a given film? Meaning, okay, I've slightly overexposed the film, and now wish to develop less than normal, how much less should I develop? Is there like a starting point, a sort of estimated guess that could guide one in the right direction? I hope that makes sense...(and I do apologize if my question sounds a bit "stupid"). \$\endgroup\$
    – m_1265
    Mar 12, 2023 at 6:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @m_1265 The general rule is to add or subtract 20% to the development time for each "stop" of push or pull. ISO 400 film exposed at EI 200, you'd develop 20% less than published times. Of course, published times are just starting points anyway; you ideally need to start by testing to find your "normal" (and potentially your personal film speed for each film) -- which will account for your pour in/pour out time, thermometer inaccuracies, metering technique, and so forth. John Finch has videos on this on YouTube and explains in his book(s). \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Mar 12, 2023 at 11:23

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