What is Negative Fill and How to Use it Properly

When we talk about lighting for film and photography we always focus on the actual lights and how to modify them. It is a fun part. However, there are a ton of lesser-talked-about grip and lightning tools that can elevate your shots to another level. One example is negative fill.

Through the use of black cards or flags or other similar pieces you can add contrast to your shot and take control of another aspect of your lighting design. Filmmaker Brady Bessette walks through how negative fill is an incredibly important tool that you should make more use of in your work.

When you are on a somewhat uncontrolled set where some big, soft lights are throwing light onto your subject and likely more you will see a bigger benefit from negative fill.

The light might not seem like it is doing that much on the opposite side of your subject, but all that light is hitting the background and objects and it’s bouncing back. Negative fill will cut that down and darken the fill side, resulting in more contrast.

Sometimes the effect is fairly subtle. As we learn in filmmaking, the smaller things are those that make all the difference. Brady uses a floppy, which is a nice option since it can be configured in different positions easily.

Image Credit: Brady Bessette

He does a nice thing by showing off what happens when you use some regular fill as well. The amount of extra boost the shadows get is super obvious and reduces contrast noticeably. If you want a punchier image then negative fill is the tool to use.

Outdoors the negative fill does a great job as well. Since light is bouncing around from nearly everywhere, dropping in something to do negative fill makes a huge improvement. On a cloudy, low-contrast day adding negative fill can make the image look a lot more interesting. 

It is mainly an aesthetic choice, but if you haven’t tried using negative fill it is something that you should add to your tool box.

[source: Brady Bessette]

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