I hardly ever shoot Kodak Portra 400; I tend to find Fuji 400H suits me better in terms of the overall colour palette I like so I thought it would be interesting to experiment with pulling some Portra 400 in development to see whether I can find a look that I like with this film stock. Now, pulling colour negative in development is rarely necessary unless you’ve done something dramatically wrong, so it’s fairly rare to come across colour negative being pulled. It can also be a dangerous game to play given that colour negative is usually best when exposed for the shadows and given some over-exposure…doing something that reduces the density in the negative is not something you would normally want or need to do otherwise you risk the negative not having enough detail. With that in mind, I rated my Portra 400 at ISO 400, metered for the shadows, and added roughly 1 stop more exposure; doing this ensured that I would be exposing to put a good amount of detail into the shadows. I then pulled the roll 1 stop during development back at UK Film Lab.
As you might expect with reducing development time, to the eye the negatives look slightly less dense and less contrasty than you might expect with normal development. The experience during scanning was also a little different to when I scan Portra 400 that’s been developed normally; in order to bring out shadow detail in over-exposed and normally developed film the density adjustments on the scanner are the key…in essentially brightening the scan you open up the shadows without blowing the highlights, and this has the effect of reducing the contrast and giving an overall bright look. What I found when scanning my pulled film was that shadow detail was more obvious and I didn’t have to adjust density as much as I do for film that’s been developed normally. This is really quite important for me simply because I don’t usually choose to brighten my images in the scan beyond the level of brightness that was actually in the scene, meaning that if I want to access that shadow detail I often have to do it in an edit. That’s no big deal given that the detail is there anyway, but if I can expose and develop my film in a way that gets me closer to my desired look, then that’s what I want to do. Additionally, if in doing this I can find a look from Portra 400 that I like for my work, then that’s all the better because it means I have access to more film stocks!
So here are my results, all shot on my Pentax 67ii and developed/scanned back at UK Film Lab. Generally, my observations during scanning and from looking at the results are that this pulled film is softer and less saturated than Portra 400 that’s developed normally. If anyone is thinking of trying pulling film for themselves, my only caveat is to judiciously check your exposures and ensure that you are definitely putting enough detail in the shadows.