IMO pushing is a technique of desperation.
You give up detail at the bottom end, in exchange for faster shutter speed.
The extra development moves the left-overs up higher on the curve into a more usable range. This effect is greatest in the highlights and least effective in the shadows.
The ISO standard has a safety factor so some underexposure is doable without loss on the print, the negative though still loses detail. Underexpose enough and it effects the print.
You ask about what you can obtain by "pushing" films.
Originally Posted by RattyMouse
I'm talking here about negative film.
What you gain is increased contrast.
That increased contrast means that the areas of your scene that would have been rendered as muddy, near shadows if you didn't increase the development ("push") for the film, are instead moved up the film's curve, with more contrast.
The areas of your scene that are below the "detailed shadow" threshold of exposure don't miraculously evidence negative density - they just stay dark shadows.
The problem with any "push" development is that it also affects the highlights of the scene. In some cases, they become so dense and grainy on the negative that you cannot do anything to make them print well.
The loss in highlight quality that comes with a one stop push is most likely the reason that Kodak doesn't recommend any change in development when T-Max 400 is metered at EI 800.
The problem with your test is that most likely you under-exposed your negatives by more than two stops - your meter was fooled by the highlights that were in your scene into setting an exposure that was more than two stops insufficient. That is a common problem in environments that force us to underexpose film and then try to save as much as we can by increasing development.
One solution to the metering problem is to get closer and take a reading from the near shadow areas that you need to make sure are on the negative.
This is a simple explanation for what probably happened.
Originally Posted by MattKing
Ok, now I know what to try next time. Thank you!