Fill Light Photography
Table of Contents
Fill Light is one of the crucial skills every portrait photographer should master, whether they prefer natural or artificial light. In fact, as a portrait professional, I always use fill Light in my own work. Over the years, I’ve developed many tips and techniques for using a beautiful fill glow – and in this article, I lay out all of them:
Definition of simple fill lighting
Why fill Light is so crucial for portrait photos.
Two easy ways to produce fill light in any situation
How to position your fill lamp for great results
I’ve also included many fill Light examples, so you know exactly what they can do. By the time you’re done, you’ll be ready to shoot some stunning portraits of your own.
What is fill light in photography?
Fill Light is the Light used to illuminate (fill) the shadows in a portrait. This is a form of supplementary lighting that you can add to any lighting setup, which works in conjunction with the leading lighting – the main Light – to create a nice effect.
More specifically, fill Light:
Enhances detail in the shadow areas of the image
Reduces overall contrast in the frame
Brings the final image more in line with the way the eye sees the world (as opposed to the camera sensor’s more limited view)
Look at the two pictures below. The shot on the left lacks fill Light, so the back of my subject’s dress is entirely black. However, when I add a little fill light behind the issue, the dress gains detail, and you get a more natural result:
The image on the left has no fill light; the image on the right includes a fill light on the subject’s back.
Now, you may be wondering:
Do I need to include fill light in every image? What if I want a darker, moodier, contrasting effect?
No, you don’t need to continually add fill light to your photos. Dark and contrasting images definitely have their place (I like them myself!). However, fill Light makes portraits look more even and natural, so when working with clients, I highly recommend it, even if the effect is very subtle.
Two simple ways to make a fill glow
While you can technically create fills with any illumination method (including flashlights, neon lights, and even phone screens), there are two portrait fill methods that I recommend for beginners:
Reflectors are the most straightforward, cheapest, and most basic method of creating fill light. They are also very versatile.
Reflectors are part of a reflective material, so by positioning them carefully, you can reflect your primary (key) light back into the shadow (for a diffused fill effect).
Here’s an example of a reflector fill light, with my headlight on the left and my reflector positioned on the right:
Reflectors are often a good choice if you are new to portrait photography. For one, a high-quality reflector will only set you back a few dollars (you can even make your own using white cardboard or sheet). Plus, the reflector is very easy to position, quick to set up, and requires a minimal learning curve, as you only need to move material back and forth next to your subject.
Flash or studio light
You can always use one (or two, or many) standard speed lights or studio strobe lights as filler lights, in addition to your headlights.
A dedicated fill lamp will do the same essential work as a reflector but is much more controllable: You can fine-tune the exposure and shape of your fill lamp with precision reflectors don’t allow.
However, if you are currently working with a one or two lamp setup, you may need to spend money on additional lamps, which can be expensive. The learning curve is more significant; Strobe fill lights offer a lot of power, but you’ll have to learn to adjust the flash output and apply the suitable modifiers for the effect you want.
Ultimately, the choice of fill light is up to you. If you are serious about improving your skills quickly, feel free to use strobe. But if you prefer a more straightforward, gradual path, reflectors may be a better choice.
How to master fill light photography: tips and techniques
This section offers my favorite methods for working with fill light. Most of these techniques apply to reflector lighting and strobe filling, but I’ll point out upfront where these techniques apply to only one method.
Start by understanding the exposure ratio
Exposure ratios may sound technical, but they really aren’t. Exposure ratio simply tells you how bright one Light is concerning another.
So if your leading Light is twice as bright as the fill light, the exposure ratio is 2:1; if your leading Light is four times more luminous than your fill light, the exposure ratio is 4:1; and if your leading Light is eight times brighter than the fill light, the exposure ratio is 8:1. The greater the exposure ratio, the more contrast (and dramatic) the effect is:
Different exposure ratios are applied to portraits. Left: Shadows are entirely filled, thanks to a 2:1 exposure ratio; this creates a low contrast image. Right: The exposure ratio is 16:1, which makes a contrasting image with deep shadows (though all the details are still present!).
Note: Fill lighting will consistently be underexposed concerning your headlights. If it’s evenly distributed to your headlights (that is, if you have an exposure ratio of 1:1); as a result, you’ll get a flat image with no contrast, which is rarely ideal. Instead, you want your fill light to be at least one stop darker than your leading Light.
How do you set this up? The easiest way is to use a handheld incident light meter. Take a test shot when measuring your headlight, then take a second shot when measuring your fill light. Compare the two exposure values. Since one stop of exposure corresponds to a doubling (or half) of Light, a one-stop difference between two lights represents a 2:1 exposure ratio, a two-stop difference represents a 4:1 exposure ratio, three-stop differences indicate an 8:1 exposure ratio, and so on. Then you can adjust the exposure and re-measure it until you get the results you want.
Handheld light meter The light meter is the easiest and most accurate way to evaluate exposure ratios. However, they are not cheap!
If you don’t have a handheld light meter, I recommend just looking at the scene then adjusting your lights. The ratio is there to help, but it’s not an essential part of a light-filled portrait.
Just remember The more significant the difference between the vital Light and the fill light, the higher the contrast. So if you want a bit more contrast, set your fill light one to two stops below your leading Light. If you want more contrast, do three to four finishes.
Add a reflector as fill lighting. You shoot with a reflector as fill
Reflectors can create many effects when used as filler. They are incredibly versatile, especially when you consider what they are!
If you want to use a second strobe as a fill light, you can skip this section – but as I emphasized above, reflectors are a great way to get started with fill lighting, and they will give you great results with very little work.
Here’s what I recommend:
First, adjust your headlight so that it shapes and illuminates your subject the way you want it. We recommend using standard lighting patterns, especially as a beginner. Measure your subject and determine the ideal exposure setting for your image.
Softbox turns on a woman. Here, I started with my softbox as the leading Light.
Next, evaluate the area of shadow created by your leading Light. If you use natural light, continuous Light, or spotlights equipped with model lights, you can do this with your eyes. Or, you can take a test shot and review it on the back of the camera.
Softbox test shot this is my test shot. While the lighting is soft, the shadows are deep.
Third, position your reflector, so it’s roughly opposite your headlight. For a low contrast effect, bring your reflector as close as possible. For a high contrast effect, move it. Once everything is in place, evaluate the result of the reflector (either by eye or with a second test shot).
Adding a reflector under the main Light increases the exposure in the shadow areas of the image.
The goal is to bring out the shadows without eliminating them altogether. If your shot looks good, go ahead and start shooting. If your shot has too much contrast, you should move the reflector closer and take a third test shot; if your shot is too level, you will have to move the reflector further.
Fill light portrait This is my final result. The shadows are still there, but – thanks to the reflector – the overall contrast in the image has been reduced.
It takes a lot of practice before you learn to see the subtle changes that white reflectors make. The key is to shoot as much as possible. If you’re having trouble evaluating the effect of a reflector and want to get better, hurry up, do this simple exercise: Start with the far reflector, then move it closer to the subject, taking the shot as you go. Compare shots on a large monitor and try to see the difference between each setting.
Before long, you’ll see even the most subtle shifts of Light!
Learn to work with a second light
Image with adjusted fill light You can create varying degrees of contrast between shadows and highlight tones by adjusting the strength of your fill light.
As you become an advanced portrait artist, you may want more control over your lighting. That’s where the strobe comes in handy; while they are more challenging to use for fill lighting, they offer more control.
Man with the spotlight as filler A second strobe light that acts as filler gives you maximum control over your shadows.
To get started with a custom fill light, place your headlight in the desired position, adjust the power, and set the proper lighting. (For instructions’ sake, I assume your aperture is set to f/8, and your shutter speed is set to a fixed 1/200s.) Take a test shot.
Behind-the-scenes image with softbox and woman, I’ve placed my softbox 45 degrees from the subject.
Using your test shot as a reference, position your fill light to shine into the main shadow areas of your subject. Adjust the power output so that the Light is less bright.
(How much you underexposed is entirely up to you! If you want to stop charging, you can adjust the power until you get the right fill light exposure of f/5.6. If you wish to change the power to two stops of charge until you get the fill light exposure, that is right for you. Of course, if you can’t calculate the exact number of apertures via a handheld light meter, then just watch!)
I added my second Light – modified with a parabolic umbrella – about 10 feet away. I set the exposure at two stops below the key Light.
Take a test shot and see if you get the effect you want. If the result is too contrast, then increase the power output of the charger lamp; if the result is too flat, then reduce the power output of the charger lamp. Makes sense?
Learn to work with multiple fill lights (and think outside the box!)
A basic fill light setup requires one Light, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to it. You can use multiple fill lights in one shot to illuminate your subject from different directions. You can also mix lamps and reflectors for different fill light strengths. Women are standing in the studio with lights all around. You can design fill lighting however you like. Feel free to use multiple light sources in different sizes and shapes!
Once you start feeling constrained by the basics, it’s really just a matter of experimenting. In the end, you can do whatever you want when making lighting settings. You are only limited by the equipment you have and your own imagination.
Using multiple fill lights allows you to control any contrast in your image.
Also, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I’ve covered the two most popular methods for filling lighting – reflectors, and strobes – but any light source can be your key and filler. You can even use natural Light as filler while the flash provides your main Light.
Woman illuminated by window Here, the main Light is a large window to the camera’s right. The fill light is provided by a strobe. You can mix light sources to achieve your Fill light!
Watch your catch light
Here’s one last tip for you, and it’s a big one:
Catchlights – that is, the spots of reflected light that appear in your subject’s eyes – are essential. An image with no catchlight looks terrible, but an image with too many capture lights, or odd positions of the catchlights, can look just as bad.
Woman with a clear catch in the head This portrait shows a clear yield at the top of the eye.
So when you’re setting up lights and reflectors, check your subject’s eyes. Make sure the spotlight looks flattering. If necessary, adjust the light output and position until you get the effect you want. Only then should you continue your shooting.
Fill Light in photography: the last words.
Hopefully, you can now confidently get started with full-light portraits. Controlling the contrast in your images is a fundamental skill, and it will instantly give your images an extra level of depth.
So do some exercise. Start slow and straightforward, and soon, you’ll master the basics!
source: digital photography school
Ngalam mbois February 4th, 2022 @Legimun007