Due to an over-zealous light meter in an old Praktica SLR, I have a roll of film that's about to be developed that is very much under-exposed. By testing the exposure readings from my Nikon D50 DSLR against the readings of this camera, it turns out I need to set the ISO dial that SHOULD be on 400 down to somewhere between 25 and 50, alternatively when the correct exposure should be 1/30, the camera reads it should be 1/500. In short, the film has been exposed at about 4 stops under (correct my maths if I'm wrong).

Would it be possible to push process this film, with correct exposure, and not have too many negative side effects? How far can an Ilford HP5 400 be physically pushed, or is that a how long is a piece of string question? And has anyone done a 4-5 stop push and had acceptable results/have examples?

It's a rather broad question but I'm just wondering what to expect. I really don't want to have the shots hideously under-developed, but I don't know whether it's salvageable! The other film I had developed using the same readings (C41) came up with some insane green grain, but there are some okay if slightly spooky, grindcore album, photos from it. I just assume that was due to being over-exposed during the scanning phase (hence the grain).

Thanks in advance, Matt.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like a good candidate for development by inspection. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting read, thanks. Can I assume then that hard pushing won't have too many negative consequences then? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 7, 2015 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I haven't done DBI myself (I was the one asking the question I linked), but it does sound like a good option. I would advise that you test first with another film, of course. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roflo
    Sep 7, 2015 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ you are going to get some extreme contrast pushing 4 stops. this sounds like a good case for Diafine developer to keep the contrast down. \$\endgroup\$
    – Skaperen
    Oct 9, 2015 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


There is an old saying in old photography that pretty much summarizes how to think about exposure and development:

Expose for shadows, develop for highlights

That is, you control shadows with exposure and highlights with development. While you can influence the shadows slightly with development, overdeveloping an underexposed negative (commonly referred to as pushing) will not give you any additional shadow detail.

So, to actually answer this question, there is not much to do with such a severely underexposed negative if a normal contrasty negative is wanted. Lots of people do push this much but the results are rarely very good. It might be salvaged while scanning with a lot of patience.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, great answer. I ended up pushing it and it actually came out alright- a bit blown in the shadows, yes, but definitely salvageable: imgur.com/SLWJRfr \$\endgroup\$ Oct 9, 2015 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @monotux: Yeah this matches my recent experience with an accidentally underexposed roll of Rollei IR film (4 stops). By developing for 2.5x the indicated time I was able get surprisingly good results - albeit with super deep shadows. \$\endgroup\$
    – HamishKL
    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:05

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