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Layer Two: Fill Light

Lesson 6 from: Editorial Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Dan Brouillette

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Lesson Info

6. Layer Two: Fill Light


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


How to Make Senior Photos Stand Out


What is Lighting in Layers?


Build a Lighting Foundation


Layer One: Main Light


Layer Two: Fill Light


Layer Three: Accent Light


Layer Four: Additional Light


Lesson Info

Layer Two: Fill Light

Layer two is your fill light. So again, like we said before, the word fill means filling the shadow with light. So your fill light doesn't always have to be a light. It can be a reflector. It can be a number of different things. It's anything that is going to add light to your shadows. So if you're lighting someone from 45 degrees to one side or the other, the opposite side of them is going to fall into shadow. Do you want that? Are you okay with that? It totally depends on the situation. If I have a senior who wants something really soft, and that pretty look, you're going to not want that shadow all the time. So a lot of times, what I'll do is I'll bring in a white piece of foam core or a V-flat, and I'll just let that light reflect off that. And it gives that nice, soft fill. It fills the shadows without having to introduce a second light. And if I can do that, I will, because the one thing I'm trying not to do with any lighting setup is make it too complicated. Especially if you're...

just starting off. If you're using one light, and all of a sudden you think, oh, that's too much shadow over there, I'm going to enter a second light. Well then, you've just entered a whole other world of, what's the light quality from that other light? How powerful is it? All these other things. Where is the catch light? All these other factors that you have to think about, where if you just throw a piece of white foam core, or silver, or depending on what you want, on that other side, it's going to reflect the light. There is no power adjustment. There isn't all that complication that can happen when you're introducing two lights. So a lot of times in studio, if I can fill a shadow with a reflector or a V-flat, I'm going to do that first because I'm trying to make things as simple as possible. No need to overcomplicated things. So your fill does not have to be an actual light, and in many cases, in my studio, it's not. It's just a V-flat. Like I said, many times a reflector will do the job and you'll avoid those unnecessary complications. And you'll still achieve the desired result. All right, a little more on fill light. If you do need a light, think about why you need it. Is it because it's a far away shot and you have a wide frame, and you don't have a place you could put a reflector to use it? I remember recently doing a shoot where it was a full-body shot of someone, horizontal frame. So I had all this space on either side. A reflector from 20 feet away, a white reflector in studio, doesn't do a whole lot. So I needed to add a second light to fill in those shadows. So it's kind of, why do I need the second light? Why can't I use the reflector here? And then, that's when you go back to your foundation. What kind of light do I want? Do I want it soft or specular? Where do you want your fill? A lot of times, for me, well, we'll get to that. What is the mood of the image, or what are you trying to reveal with your fill light? Do you want it to be really bright and airy, or do you just need a little bit of that shadow filled? So there's all these questions you can ask yourself. And the answers are built within that foundation, so you know, oh, I want this soft fill light. Or I want a hard fill light. A lot of times, even when I'm not being able to use a reflector, I'll shoot a light back into a white V-flat. So I'm not actually shooting the light directly at someone. I'll shoot it into the white V-flat, trying to create that reflection myself, and overpower what I would do. So that's where my fill is coming from. So it's a nice, soft, big white fill. But it's not one light reflecting off of it with one light. You're using that second light to shoot back into it. And we'll do something like that in the studio here, too. All right, continuing on with fill light. Like I said, what quality do you want from your fill? How powerful should it be? And that's where you start getting into lighting ratios. So this next slide, you're going to see yours truly being a model. Lighting ratios, there's a couple things I want to say about this before we start shooting. Lighting ratios are measured just in, basically, stops. So let's say that a 1:1 lighting ratio means that your light, metered from, let's say that your light is coming from this side. And you have your light meter. That's your main light. And it says F8. Or whatever it says. The ratio is how much light is hitting that side versus that shadow side. So how much is your main light, versus your fill? So a 1:1 ratio means that it is the same amount of light. So, as you can see here, I look really pleased to be here that day. The light hitting the right side of my face is measured the same as the left side of my face. So that means it's a 1:1 ratio. What a 2:1 ratio means is it's not necessarily measured how you think. It's one stop difference. So the light on that side of my face, the right side for me, left side for you guys, is one stop brighter than the shadow side. And then it doubles. A 4:1 ratio is two stops difference. Does that make sense? So you go from a 1:1 to one stop under, to two stops under, and then it always doubles. So you go 1:1, 2:1, 4:1, 8:1. And 8:1 lighting ratio means that your light is now three stops under. So again, this is light is the same. this is the light on this side is one stop brighter than this side. Two stops brighter than this side. Three stops brighter. And that one I didn't have any fill on at all. So you can see the difference between 8:1 and having no fill. If you're in a studio that's all white or all black, even the first light reflecting around the room can almost have the same effect. And then you can see the setup down here in these lower photos. I had my main light off to this side, 45 degrees. And then the fill light was just above the camera. So this is the photo from the photographer's viewpoint. Main light, fill light. So you can see, that was the frame. And that's how it ended up. And we'll talk about that too, when we're shooting. The other thing I want to tell you guys when selecting gear, having to do with stops, is a lot of people, when looking at gear, they look at something like a Pro Photo B that is listed as max power of 500 watts per second. And they look at something like the B2, which is 250. And they think, oh my gosh, that's way more power, why would I ever get the B2? The B1 is double the power. Well, every time you double the power of a light, that's only one stop. So technically, the B1, at its full power, with the same modifier, compared to the B2, at full power, is a one stop difference. So that means you're shooting at F8 versus F11. Or F8 versus 5.6. So it's really not that big of a difference as when you just look at the numbers and see 250 versus 500. So don't be freaking out when you think you don't have enough power. Something as simple as moving the light in a little bit will make up that stop quickly. So that's why I'm not too worried about the power when I'm thinking about the lights. It's one thing if you're outside trying to overpower the sun from far away, or anything like that. But generally speaking, people shy away from the B because they don't think it's enough power when the difference is one stop. It's not that big of a deal. So that was a little tangent, but hopefully it helps out when you're selecting your gear. So that's kind of the idea behind fill light, is lighting ratios. I don't think about lighting ratios much when I'm doing it. But again, with the foundational knowledge, or the conceptual knowledge, and building that foundation, I want to know why they exist and how, so when I am setting up a fill light, and I'm metering, I can be like, if I don't have a screen I can look at, or if I'm not shooting tethered, and I can just meter quick and be like, oh, this side is at F8 and this is 5.6. I know we're at a 2:1 lighting ratio. Or, this is at F11, and this is at 5.6. That's two stops difference, I know we're at a 4:1 ratio. So it you're just acting on the fly with your light meter, you can be like, all right, I know there is going to be more shadow over here than here. Or, I want less shadow, so we need to turn up the fill. Things when I'm working with an assistant, or working by myself on the fly. Just little things that I know how to tweak when they don't look right, that comes from knowing things like this. But again, I'm not actively thinking in my head, today I'm going to go with a 4:1 lighting ratio. No, that just doesn't happen. But, to actually know why, and know it to start when you're learning lighting is important. Because it will help you when things aren't going your way, or when you're designing your lighting setup.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials

Lighting Gear List

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting Terms Guide

Ratings and Reviews

pete hopkins

awesome teacher and awesome technique. after soooo many webinars, it's really great to see someone break it down to the bare bones of lighting with exceptional quality results. i can listen to Dan all day. no pretense, no over the top emotional pleas, no drama! did i say awesome!!!! Plus, I'm a huge fan of the B! and B2 systems. Freedom is key. Now I can shoot anywhere, anytime. Thanks Dan.


This is by far the best class on senior photography I have found on creativelive. Dan explains the technical aspects in an easy to understand format. He does a great job going through studio shots, outdoor shots, editing and marketing. He's given me some great ideas and inspired me to be more creative. I am going to rewatch the lighting set up for the "hero shot". It's super cool!

Tristanne Endrina

Dan was great. His class was very comprehensive but easy to follow. The slides he used weren't flashy. Instead, they were simple and he went at a good pace. I left feeling like I could really pull off the lighting techniques he taught. I'm excited to put what I learned into my photography. :) Thanks, Dan.

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