28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 14 – What’s the most important light on the set?

Sometimes the difference between a good shot and a great shot is putting the fill light in the right spot

28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.

What’s the most important light on the set?

For me it’s the fill light. The fill light is probably the least appreciated light on the set but it has an enormous amount of power. Traditionally it just “fills in the shadows” but it has a shape to it as well. Filling a scene with a floor bounce or wall bounce gives it a completely different look to a ceiling bounce. Sometimes the difference between a good shot and a great shot is putting the fill light in the right spot to smooth out the way a key light looks on a face.

Fill light article

Fill Light: The Underdog of Lighting

Key lights are often the last lights you want to move, as they shape the light in the set and can result in a lot of time trying to recapture a look if they are repositioned. A fill light, though, can very quickly lower the contrast of an errant key light so it isn’t so objectionable, or extend it around a face so it appears softer than it is. If the key light isn’t in the right place I can solve a lot of problems by moving the fill light into the right place.

The two things I do when I move in for coverage is use negative fill to shape the light in a space, and move a small fill light around alongside the camera to clean up faces and add an eye light when needed. The goal is always to light once and move as little around as possible, and while I may have an overall base fill in a location I’ll usually have a little “cleanup light” on a stand that follows me around.

For example, I shot a commercial the other day that takes place at Christmas in a living room. I convinced the director to give me one side of the room to light from, and I had my crew set up an 8’x8’ Ultra Bounce with five brightly-colored LED PARs running on a simple chase to emulate flashing lights from a Christmas tree. After that I had one small Kino Flo that I’d move around the room, following the camera as needed.

For moody scenes one can often let wide shots and actors in the distance fall into more contrast, and “clean them up” a little with a small soft light near the camera that kicks in only when they are close enough that you can see what the light is doing.


How to Be Kind to a Camera Assistant


Art Adams | Director of Photography

See all 28 Days of Cinematography Insights

Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing


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Art Adams is a cinema lens specialist at ARRI, Inc. Before that, he was a freelance cinematographer for 26 years. You can see his work at Art has been published in HD Video Pro,…

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