Photo Tips – Why You Need Portrait Photography Fill Light!

In the last few photo tips articles, we’ve covered portrait photography lighting patterns … Short light, wide light, split light, loop lighting patterns, Rembrandt and finally butterfly lighting patterns. Today’s photo tip is all about controlling the shadows of lighting patterns with fill lights.

Each of our lighting patterns have their good and bad points and will be perfect for some faces and terrible for others. If you haven’t done any experiments to get the hang of it, I suggest you create your own weekend project!

These patterns are essential building blocks for mastering portrait photography.

As photographers, we tend to care about ourselves with light, almost to exclude everything else – but shadows are just as important! In fact, each of the lighting patterns we’ve discussed are named for the type of shadow the light source throws in!

This series of lighting patterns has been about building them with one light – the main (or key) light – and how to position them to get the most pleasing lighting patterns for certain types of faces.

While no matter what the light looks like, it can be a studio flash, a sun, a window, a reflector even more than a flashlight – it’s important to have shadows to add depth and life to our portrait photography.

However, when we look at portraits done by professional photographers, we note that they almost always have more than one light source. Usually they have three and as many as five or six!

Why? And how do we know when more lights are needed and where to place them?

Once again, everything returned to the shadows!

Suppose you are using a short exposure pattern to help visually narrow the face of the subject. This works because – visually – the shadows tend to recede and the lit areas move forward. Because the shadow is closest to the camera, it makes the face appear thinner.

But color and depth of shadow can add emotion and feeling to a portrait that we don’t want! If we use a single light, we will have sharp lines dividing the highlight and shadow areas and we lose all the details in the shadow areas.

Shadow areas can be very dark – which if we want a lot of drama and emotion in our portraits, that’s a good thing … but what if we don’t want all the drama? Obviously, we need to lighten the shadows, while still maintaining our slimming light pattern.

To do this, we add a second light. This is called a “fill light.” It’s named for the fact that this light fills the shadow!

With the fill light, we can now have complete control over the shadow! We can turn it off and have a completely black shadow or we can change it and have the shadow almost disappear – and anything in between!

Portrait Lighting Tips

Note: if we have the same amount of light intensity on the fill light as the main light the shadow is lost. If we have more light on the fill light, it will cast a shadow on the (previously) lit side. If you do this, it becomes the main light and the other one is the fill light. In other words, the fill light is always the same or lower intensity than the main light.

To get an understanding of fill lights and what they do, look through your favorite magazine and try first to determine the lighting pattern, then where the headlights are positioned and whether or not they use fill lights. If they use one, why? If not – why not?

In portrait photography Science Articles, depth of shadow is just as important as light quality and will make a big impact on your viewer’s perception. We control the depth with a fill light.

Use photo tips today to start thinking about how you can use lighting patterns and fill lights in your portrait photography to start controlling the emotions of your viewers – and you’ll be well on your way to consistently winning photo contests. …

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