Fill Light – The Underdog of Lighting

Art Adams explores the placement and use of the Rodney Dangerfield of the three point lighting system: The Fill Light.

…I’ve gone through periods of my career where I focus on different lights and how to use them. I started by looking at key lights: how to place them, what works on different kinds of faces and what doesn’t, how big they should be in relation to the actors, etc. Then I spent a lot of time on backlighting and edge lighting: where are the best spots to place backlights, should I use both a back light and an edge light or use one light to do both jobs, when can a back light become a key light on the next setup, etc.

It took me a bit longer to concentrate on fill light, as early on in my career I was focused more on shaping the bright areas of the frame than I was on filling in the shadows. It’s only been in the last ten years or so that I really came to learn the power of the fill light.

This still is from a corporate project I shot a long, long time ago. It’s about corporate espionage, and I wanted to create a moody look while being able to relight quickly for closeups and such. In this shot the key light on the woman was an open-face tungsten unit, probably a 1K, pushed through a 4’x4’ frame of Lee 129 diffusion. Lee 129 is very, very dense stuff, and I love it because the diffusion becomes a very flat even source that’s wonderfully soft and wraps around anything. We also hid 4’x4 tube Kino Flos along the walls above the bar, where the wall meets the ceiling, as a general soft back/side light.

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