Beginners Guide to SFX
$34.99 $24.99

Episode Categories

How to Use a Fill Light

Tagged with:
Feb 10

Subscribe to Phlearn

Using Main and Fill Light

In this episode we cover what’s called “clamshell lighting,”  with a beauty dish as our main light and softbox as fill. We go over the power levels of each and how they can best be used together.

All the Info

  • 0:20 News and Updates
  • 1:35- Using a main/key light and issues
  • 2:35- Why a fill light will help, why it shouldn’t be as strong as fill
  • 2:45- Our light setup with softbox
  • 3:20-  How the light will affect the shadows
  • 3:55- Measuring ratio using the light meter
  • 4:35- Metering for the main light
  • 5:45- Turning up the fill light to full power and showing example
  • 07:15- Lowering the light to half power
  • 08:18- Explanation of a stop
  • 09:20- Using ratio with the light, not in camera
  • 10:10 Using the 3:1 ratio
  • 11:48- Putting this ratio into practice

Why Fill Should be Based off the Main Light

Your key or main light is the primary source of light in the image. The fill is simply used to add detail back into your shadows, and if you add to much or too little it can throw off the look of the photo. Using a 3:1 ratio will help you bracket so that you have an image showing detail in every area.

Click on image to view it larger

  • Aaron Nace

    f/16 is totally a stop. Brain not work good.

  • Allison

    Great tips – and a huge thank you for suggesting Erwin Olaf’s work – truly inspiring!

  • Caroline Southpaw Glabik

    Hey guys! Could you do a episode on background lighting? For an example, how to get different background color if you only have one type of backdrop. Without the helfp from Photoshop.

    Thanx again for this week, needed to be reminded!

  • Amy Nelson-Blain

    Great episode! You could use lapel microphones, reduces background noise and you can move around and have the same level of audio. 

  • Sebastian Ortiz

    Awesome episode….

  • Sebastian Ortiz

    If you have a white background, you could change it in shades of black to white, just by the placement of your light, the further away from your subject, the lighter the background the closer to your subject the darker the background, this works in conjunction with the distance your subject is from the background, as well… now if you’re looking at Color itself, a flash with a colored gel will work for giving you color in the background…. hope that helps,at least till Aaron nad the gang, does an episode on it… Hee! :)



  • Chuck Griffin

    For better audio, maybe try wireless lapel or lavalier mics. If you don’t want to spend tons of money on a wireless system try using wired mics with a zoom h2n or zoom h4n recorder. Might add an extra step for processing videos as you have to sync up the audio. But the quality you gain would definitely be worth the extra time.

  • George

    I am little confused :)
    You have measured key light at F16. Then you turned off key light and turn on fill light and mesure  fill at f9.
    Ok now you turned on both light but you did not mesure your exposure and shoot at F16. Shouldn’t the sum of both light together give yo more then F16. 
    Better yet shouldn’t you use your light meter to find out final exposure with key & fill? :D

  • Nathan Dunn

    So is the Erwin Olaf pheature inspired by the dave hill/erwin olaf preset thing? *headshake*

  • Matt Goslee

    how about an episode on use of gels and how to use them to get a certain mood to your photography.

  • Aaronrichardjay

    I luff ur show, u r the best

  • Anonymous

    Aaron, you don’t have to thank us for buying the PRO tutorials. They totally worth the money!!! 

  • Marius Manastireanu

    You want to expose the shot for the key light (the brightest light in the photo). So if the key light is measured at f16 you shot at f16

  • Aaron Bennett

    Now That Was Prob The Best Episode Yet!!! Brilliant Aaron :-)

  • Barrett S.

    Wireless lavalier microphone is a black ball looking mic but would be perfect for this. I would look into one of those as opposed to a face mic..

  • Dan R Conway

    If you don’t want to go buy a lav mic, an iPhone will do in a pinch. Lee over on Fstoppers, another great photography resource, did an awesome video about this:

  • Anonymous

    yessss phlearn tshirts :)

  • Anonymous

    love these episodes :) ive been getting really into studio work recently and I cant wait to experiment much more :)

  • Elias

    Yes, like Marius said the fill light doesn’t affect the brightness of the main/key light but brightens up the areas that the main light doesn’t hit (shadows).

  • jared

    for sound you should get a clip on mic.. ( like what is used in a talk show)

  • Rebecca

    In school, we learned that for portrait to have a 3:1 (twice as much for main than fill) was only a one stop difference, a 5:1 was 2 stops and 9:1 is stops.  
    Commercial photography is different in that one stop difference between main and fill is 4:1, 2 stops is 4:1 and 3 stops is 8:1 (I think).  For some reason portrait adds a 1 to the ratio and they say it’s the fill or something.

    P.S. Not trying to be a smarty pants…I literally just graduated on Friday, but I was a bit confused when you said a 3:1 ratio was 1 1/2 stops difference.  Anyways, I’m trying to watch all your videos, I absolutely LOVE this website!!  I’ve learned a ton!!

  • George

    Now I got it. Thanks for the info Marius & Elias

  • Jose Soriano

    You are right rebecca, It is like you say

Free PRO Tutorial
Sign up for our newsletter and instantly receive a free PRO Tutorial!
Over 20,000 people
are already signed up.
Random Tips

Adding RAM to your computer is a cheap way to make Photoshop much faster.