In cinematography and photography, you may have come across the term fill light. But what is fill light?

What is this? It is a type of light that is often used when shooting portraits.

Most professionals refer to it as ambient light.



What Is Fill Light?

The term ‘fill’ is often used in cinematography and photography lighting to refer to the light that fills in or washes out shadows and dark areas of an image.

Fill light can be natural, such as sunlight or a window, or artificial like an off-camera flash.

Knowing how to control and use fill light will help you improve your images by giving them more depth and dimension.



What Is Fill Light?

Fill lights are used instead of direct sunlight or bulbs that are filled with light.

In film, photography, and television, a fill light can be used in order to minimize the apparent contrast of an image in order to match the dynamic range of that film and add the same level of detail usually seen in natural light.

When a photographer uses a photograph of an object, and the exposure is high, he may want to add some fill light to the scene.

In the dark, a photographer would never bother to do this – he would shoot the scene without any light – but when lighting is required, he does use the fill-light technique.

It is a trade-off between extra shadow and increased dimension.

what is fill light

The technique is accomplished by placing a small spotlight on the subject of the photograph.

This light has no color temperature because it has been emitted after the shutter has been closed.

What is interesting about this is that the emitted light – no color temperature – is exactly what the camera sees as the subject of the shot.

In this way, it is like a black-and-white photograph – the fill-light adds depth and highlights the photo.

The effect is a striking contrast that makes the photograph much more interesting.


Cameras without built-in light meters read the light meter through the viewfinder or through an internal meter.

Beyond Fill Lighting

Some modern cameras, however, can also read light meters.

The advantage to this is that it is not necessary to place a light meter within easy reach.

If you are taking a photo indoors at night, it can be pretty dark; having the light meter readily available means that you do not need to stop to take a measurement, as long as your camera’s light meter is installed.

How is the light meter used in photography? It is primarily used as a measuring device. With digital cameras, you can simply read the meter for your exposures.

This makes it easier to know if you have gotten excellent exposure.

Most digital cameras have the ability to expose the image more than a few times, depending on your settings. This is done with a process called image correction.

What is fill light? When you photograph black-and-white images, the camera may not use a light meter, because a photograph can only reveal so much light.

The fill-meters are used primarily with film photography.

The film has a limit on how dark or light it can show, and so the fill-meter gives you the ability to expose the image further.

How are they different from auto-darkening meters?

Unlike auto-darkening meters, which rely on exposed film for measurements, the fill meter measures the amount of visible light that is absorbed by the sensor.

When you use a dark-and-light meter, you are able to determine the exact exposure that you want to get.

What is Fill Light – Wrapping Up

You do not need to wait until you see the full spectrum of colors to adjust the exposure. Instead, you can set the meter to expose the image in black and white.

Fill meter types are available in a variety of sizes and speeds. Some can even measure in Lux and stops.

This means that you can either pick up a pen and write in the dark or you can use your camera’s auto-darken feature.

If you are doing both, you can make the switch easily. The fill meters that come with digital cameras are easy to use and you can take many shots while the camera stays lit.