how to use photo fill light

Photo fill light is simply light that fills in the shadow areas of the subject that you are photographing. It's often the easiest and most natural lighting to use.

I sat these two boys in the shade of a large tree. Without any fill light, their faces would come out too dark. The sun was high in the sky and off to the left.

I leaned a very large, piece of white foam-board just out of camera range on the right on a light stand.

Outdoor portrait of two boys in the shade with fill light bounced from a white reflector board.Natural Fill Light

The large white surface bounced the sunlight back onto the boys' faces, providing a nice natural fill light. The main light from the was coming from the left.

That light bounces off that large 3' by 5' foam-board on the right onto my subjects and softly fills the shadow areas so that the effect is very natural lighting. This series of 3 photos below shows what a dramatic difference lighting has on a photograph. Almost of the light is coming from the window behind my subject, Mr. Mannequin.

The light is coming from the outdoors on a cloudy day through the window into the den. This is very strong back lighting. The first photo on the left has no fill lighting, so there is almost no detail in his face. I turned my camera's pop-up flash on for fill lighting in the middle photograph. This clearly provides the most detail in the subject even though it's not necessarily the most flattering portrait lighting.

Fill flash comparison

In the photo on the right, I held a large white piece of cardboard off to the right. It's still too dark on the face because the light from the window is not hitting the cardboard directly enough. Tt's more natural looking and a bit more flattering on the face, but still too dark.


where to buy various photo fill light set-ups


The final photo in this discussion was shot in my client's home using a Novatron studio flash unit. The flash head is inside a 3 ft. soft box made by Photoflex.

The Photflex softfox can be used as a main light source or a photo fill lightSoftbox

The Photoflex Softlighter Siftbox is placed fairly close to my subject.

Because it is a large and diffused light source, it creates a very similar lighting effect as the boys placed in the shade, in the outdoor portrait shown photo in the beginning of this article.

I used that same large white foam-board sheet as my photo fill light. I used a large alligator clip and clipped the board to a lightweight light stand.


Portrait with photo fill lightSoftbox Lighting

In this particular photograph of this high school senior, I also used a small hair light. If you look closely, you can see a few highlights in his hair.

If I had not used a hair light, his dark hair, photographed against the dark background would have been too dark. This hair light adds a little more dimension to the portrait.


related resources for photography lighting


Photo Lighting. Photo lighting tips are among the hardest to master of all the things to learn on how to take better pictures. This article has more photo lighting tips about the 4 elements of light.

How to Photograph People. There are a few more sample photos of natural outdoor lighting using fill lighting in this article.

It is my intention for you to have fun while learning how to take better pictures. So I encourage you to have a childlike curiosity as you learn how to use photo fill light and other digital photo tips from the better digital photo tips website.


Keep on shooting.


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I have the 60 inch Softlighter.  It's a really big light source and gives me a real nice soft light for portraits.  

Click the photo if you want more information.

No matter where you pick one up, you can get a good feel for how good any camera gear works by reading the reviews on Amazon.  

The 60 inch has a 100% 5 star review rating at the time this article was written.  That is unheard of in the world of customer feedback.