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What is a fill light?

By July 17, 2018 Photography No Comments

Fill lights are light units that have the important function of filling in and brightening up any shadows created or left untouched by the main light that may be too dark to suit the image.

fill light

Although a lighting setup can only have one main light, it can benefit from as many fill lights as required. Lights that have a fill function are normally matched to diffusers to ensure that the light generated is as soft as possible and does not create any further distracting shadows or highlights anywhere in the image. The power of a fill light should never be higher than that of its relative main light or their functions will switch. The higher the intensity of the fill light, the flatter and softer the overall lighting will be, as most or all shadows generated by the main light will disappear from the subject’s face and body.

The importance of fill lights goes easily past the brightening of shadows and extends to the creation of mood in the image. Here, fill lights work together with the main light in enhancing the concept of the shoot and generating a specific atmosphere on set. Given a main light of fixed intensity, a stronger fill light will tend to make the mood bright and fresh while a weaker one will help to inspire darker and more intense feelings. Fill lights are also used on location when the ambient light alone is either not sufficiently intense or creates shadows that are too hard on the subject’s face and body.

In the picture above, an extra light was added to the existing setup. This light served as a fill light, placed on the subject’s left-hand side directly opposite the main light, aimed at softening the original shadows visibly created by the beauty dish in the first version of the picture. In this new image, the shadows are much lighter and less intense, making the whole shot look brighter and airier, creating a much less dramatic mood.

fill light


Image details

  • Model: Anna Tatton
  • Makeup and Hair: Virginia Bertolani
  • Shutter Speed: 1/160
  • Aperture: ƒ/6.3
  • ISO: 100
  • Lights: Studio head 1 with beauty dish (front, camera left); Studio head 2 with medium softbox (front, camera right)

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Lighting People, Rosella VanonLighting People: A Photographer’s Reference
Rosella Vanon

 
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