Negative Fill: The Best Kept Secret

(Cinematic Lighting Lesson 08)

Summary: In this video Ryan not only explains what negative fill is and how to use it, but he shows it being applied to different situations, gives tips on placement, and provides you with professional & DIY solutions.

Length: 5:47 minutes

How To Cinematically Light A Corporate Video (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 20)
How To Light Quickly (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 19)
Lighting For Extreme Frame Rates (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 21)
12 Crucial Questions Before Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 15)
3 Strategies For Lighting Your Night Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 14)
5 Essential Strategies To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 12)
10 Tips To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 13)
How To Light A Small Commercial (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 23)
Where To Begin Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 18)
19 replies
  1. Andres Mata
    Andres Mata says:

    Great lesson! Really informative. I have used negative fill sometimes in interiors, but I find using it in exteriors a little complicated when time and budget is really tight. It’s a great technique we all should know. Thanks!

    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      Thanks- I’m glad you liked it & found it helpful. 🙂

      I personally think negative fill is affordable for any production, since the rental for everything is about $20 tops. However, your point about time, is the bigger consideration for me. If you are doing everything yourself, then it does add extra time to setup. The only way around that is to have an additional crew member- and that is where additional expense could come into play.

      And that’s always the trade off in this line of work isn’t it? Especially on small shoots- trying to balance time vs. budgets vs. quality… unfortunately we can only pick two…

      Thanks again for watching. 🙂

  2. njthomps65
    njthomps65 says:

    Really enjoyed this lesson! I haven’t used negative fill much, if at all. So I will certainly begin looking for opportunities for this technique to help shape lighting.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Glad this lesson has sparked some ideas for you! Years ago I would see filmmakers put up negative fill, and thought it was a bit odd (once it was for a night scene even!). But when I started to do use it, it made perfect sense. The nuance is subtle, but really affects the entire feel of the shot.

  3. Oren Arieli
    Oren Arieli says:

    Nicely done Ryan. I just had to incorporate this on a shoot yesterday with a blue wall close to talent. It also had a noisy monitor mounted on rails that couldn’t be shut. Rather than using (relatively) thin black fabric, I employed a heavy-duty moving blanket (black on one side, white on the other). I bring this to every shoot, as it serves so many useful purposes. So neg. fill + sound absorption in one.

  4. Philippe Maurice
    Philippe Maurice says:

    Hey Ryan , love the whole training series , i have a question about shooting “sort of ” related to this subject , i am following some cinematographers and i wanted to ask when you are shooting sort of a low key look like these images :

    how do you get the shadows to be as thick and rich , and you sort of have light rays coming in , i tried to do it with a smoke machine and with reflector tried to disperse it into sort of haze it worked but it needed to keep the smoke going and that was difficult on everyone on set, is there is another way, more lungs friendly ?


    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      Thanks- I’m glad you’re enjoying the series. Tim & I are having fun putting it together. 🙂

      The answer to the haze question, is that you need to use a hazer, not a smoke machine. Smoke machines are great for a low budget solution, but as you probably experienced, the smoke doesn’t hang around very long, and it is harder to control. If you use a Hazer, it puts out an even distribution across the set, and it hangs in the air longer than a smoke machine does. So if you are in a drafty environment, a hazer is going to work a lot better than a smoke machine.

      As for the rich shadows, those will be helped by keeping the bulk of the haze farther away from the camera, so that your shadows do not get too milky, and then you’ll clean up the shadows in the grade, by crunching the milky parts of the shadows into blackness. (Just be careful that you don’t over grade the image, and lose all detail in the shadows…)

      Unfortunately, I don’t know of a lung friendly solution for everyone on set. It’s been my experience that hazers are more tolerable than smoke machines, but I don’t think either are great long term. I’ve heard that there are different solutions you can get, but I haven’t researched it or tried any out. I just usually request a hazer and one shows up on the grip truck.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      A floppy is a type of flag. In many ways it is better.

      A flag is something that blocks the light and is almost always black. Often it is a black piece of fabric stretched between a metal frame.

      A floppy is also a black piece of fabric stretched between a metal frame. However, it also has an extra piece of fabric that “flops” down. This can be used to double the size of the flag. Or if you position the flag horizontally to act like a ceiling, the floppy part creates a wall. This really helps to block A LOT of light for situations such as reducing light leak for video village or the camera operator.

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