top of page
  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

the Fill Light - building a multi light studio set up for photography portraits.

Building a multi light studio set up for photography portraits

the Fill Light

Back so soon? Geez, I've got no excuse to not smash out these blogs now. I kinda lied in that last blog about cutting all these videos together a month and then some ago, as I pasted over Emma's face in this one and a couple of others. I'm sure she'll love me for using unedited images.. but they're a good reference point as most people will only ever see images with perfect skin (or horrific mannequin skin from cheap filters), which is not reality, and it equally helps the illusion of good lighting that bit more. I can't remember if I've spoken about this in the past, but the way I approach 'fixing' skin is this - you do not critique every pore and blemish when you are standing talking to someone in the same way that you would notice them as distractions in a still image. As photographers, all we want to do is to present nice clean images with few distractions, so we remove them so that the subject is as beautiful as they seem when you talk to them in person. Of course, if those blemishes are an everyday part of a person, and it's not a beauty portrait (because context and narrative is everything), leave them in. Moles are difficult because they may look like blemishes in small resolutions/full length images where the details aren't obvious.. but I digress.

There are tricks to lighting models in more flattering ways, but sometimes to the detriment of the tonal transitions and overall skin tones. There was a fad several years ago of just blowing out the skin a little, so you didn't have to worry about skin texture and blemishes so much, or the current massive trend in the beauty/selfie community with ring lights, which I've never been a massive fan of. The reason they work is they hit you head on, placing all shadows behind you, and again, killing all tonal transitions unless used sparingly. You do that with darker skin, and you could easily be accused of whitewashing skin tones too. Again, it depends on the narratives, but nine times out of ten, you want lovely natural skin tonal transitions that are representative of the model's true skin colour.

Typically, a bigger light source will produce softer, more flattering images from softer shadows, the harder (smaller) the light, the harder the shadow, so this means every pour will have a hard defined shadow with in it, whereas a bigger light source will fill them. Apply that logic to eyelashes, and you now have shadowed eyes, or the lip of the eyelid under the eyes, and you now have tired baggy looking eyes - but sometimes that hard light is the narrative we need, so we turn to photoshop. Equally, you can use hard shadows to thin faces and reduce the size of the nose, as it hides some of it in shadow (depending on where you place said shadows, you could emphasise the nose), but we don't really complain about the positive effects of lighting, yet we demonise photoshop. Physics is what physics does, we can't always have our cake and eat it.

So a fill light..

If you remember, I choose the beauty dish for it's harder shadows to emphasise what the lights were all doing individually, and well, a fill light does what is says on the tin. It helps fill in those hard shadows while not taking away the lighting pattern and it's effects. It's not always there to be infinitely more flattering, but so the images fall with in the range of the camera's exposure abilities. True black has no texture because we can't see it, and true white has no texture neither for the same reasons, and camera sensors have a much smaller range between the two compared to that of what the human eye can expose; by about a 3rd if I'm remembering correctly. This harks back to the lighting patterns 101's and wanting to create an implied 3rd dimension on a 2d medium. The second you flatten those whites and blacks to no detail, then that part of the image is 2d - again, people use it as a creative tool, but typically the rules are we want a 3d looking image as it's true to life. If you ever see camera companies boasting about their dynamic range on various bodies, that's what they're referring to, their ability to expose more of the spectrum and with greater nuance, so it's close to the human eye, aka, what we know and see.


If you fancy learning live with a model and are local(ish) to North Wales, check out - we'll pack in wayyy more information than these 101's, it'll be less awkward than my cheesy voice-overs, and I'll be able to show results in real time via a 4K projector while fielding questions. It'll cover everything from setting up lights, syncing and shutter settings, lighting patterns, to a multi light set up where at the end you'll get some one on one time with the model to try it out and kick-start/bolster your portfolio.

13 views0 comments
bottom of page