By Scott Thompson

Table of Contents

Lighting can be a tricky thing to master. But as most professional photographers and filmmakers will tell you ….

Its critical. 

The good news is once you learn the basic principles of lighting, there are many tools to get the effects you want. It’s no secret that proper lighting is vital to storytelling , cinematography , and composition. 

One of the most commonly used lighting setups is known as 3 point lighting. 

In this article we will first go over some lighting basics, as well as provide a brief introduction to 3 point lighting. We then point our focus on understanding FILL LIGHTING and how you can use it to achieve the best lighting in your projects.



With so many lights to use on the market and so many ways to light any subject, the topic of lighting can quickly become confusing and overwhelming. It’s important to understand that lighting a subject is an artform, and its application is subjective depending on who you talk to. Like anything, do a ton of research and learn as many techniques as you can , then make your own decision on what “good” lighting is. 


In a nutshell lights give a subject shape. For example when lighting a face , shadowing plays a part in your overall look. Light coming from different angles can bring out curves in a face that will bring it to life. Most people consider FLAT lighting to be bad lighting in filmmaking or content creation because it does not show shadows and curved lines of the face making your imagery very bland and uninteresting. Its our job as cinematographers to add lights that make a scene interesting. Most people use lighting to make one object pop and stand out over the rest of the scenery.

The main challenge of creating good lighting is always working with your environment to get the shot you desire. This may mean blocking unwanted lights, or using reflectors to redirect the light rays to a subject. We will go into the different challenges of indoor vs outdoor lighting setups below.


3 Point lighting has been used for many years by thousands of professionals. It’s a very popular setup because it can be used in a wide range of filming scenarios. In short , it consists of 3 lights arranged to create shape around the subject. 

The 3 lights are labeled KEY LIGHT,  BACK LIGHT , & FILL LIGHT.

  • KEY LIGHT : The key light serves as the main source of light on the front of the subject . It’s usually positioned at a 45 degree angle in reference to the subject in order to illuminate one side . This will create shadows on the subject and help us see the shape better. The position , color and strength of the key light will set to tone for your shot. So it’s an important light to get right for your creative project.
  • FILL LIGHT: The fill light FILLS in the shadows of the subject with softer ambient light that will show more details of the object you are shooting. This light is positioned on the opposite side that the key light is illuminating the subject. There are many tools that you can use as a fill light. 

There also are many different ways to arrange a fill light, however a common area is on the opposite side of key light.

FILL LIGHT VS KEY LIGHT: A common question people have regarding 3 point lighting is what is the difference between a key and fill light. In short the key light is your main source that lights your  subject and the fill is second in command to help fill in shadows. The key is a harsher light whereas the fill should be softer and more diffused.

  • BACKLIGHT: ( ALSO CALLED THE RIM LIGHT) This light creates a glowing rim on the back edge of the subject in your frame. It is placed behind the subject and its purpose its to help separate the subject from the background.


The best fill lights emit soft and diffused light. You don’t want your fill light to compete with your key light . If your fill light is too bright it will wash out your subject and have a lack of shadowing. There are many tools to help control the light to get the desired lighting you want.

Keep in mind that your environment will determine your lighting setup.There are two different setups commonly used for lighting your scene : Indoor setups and Outdoor lighting setups. In this section well look at what gear is best for each scenario to help you get the best Fill lighting.


  • INDOOR SETUPS : With indoor setups you will have more control over your lighting. Mainly because the sun ( the most powerful keylight on earth) can be controlled by blocking windows and doors. Inside you can place your key, fill and backlights in exact positions , then adjust each light intensity to your liking. Below well look at our favorite FILL lighting equipment for indoor setups.

BEST FILL LIGHTS FOR STUDIO / INDOOR SETUPS : The best fill lights for indoor studio setups will deliver a soft diffused light that has the ability to control its intensity for different environments. You will want to pair a light with a diffuser to help soften the light source. A diffuser dramatically changes a light source ( see example) 


  1. GODOX SL150

BEST DIFFUSERS FOR STUDIO / INDOOR SETUPS: There are many ways to diffuse light from your fill source to soften the light. You will need to use a diffuser to get softer less harsh lighting . A few diffusers that be used with the lights mentioned above are here.

  1. Aperture light dome
  1. Neewer light diffuser

*Indoor setups can experience “spill fill” . This is lighting spilling into your scene from windows or other indoor light sources. To control this you may need to block them.


  • OUTDOOR SETUPS : Creating lighting outdoors is much harder to control due to sunlight. You will have to work with the sunlight. This takes creativity and on the spot problem solving. In many situations you may control your lighting based on the time of day you chose to shoot. Usually for outdoor shooting , you will use the sun as your keylight and then use reflectors and diffusers to help control your light. If you shoot at golden hour ( sunset or sunrise ) then you may use other light setups because sunlight is weakest at those times. Equipment you will need to control your fill light and back light are mainly reflectors and diffusers. 

BEST REFLECTORS FOR OUTDOOR FILL LIGHTING: Reflectors are a great tool for outdoor fill lighting. You can angle a reflector at a 45 degree angle to direct the sunlight and fill your subject with more light .

  1. Julius Studio 24 x 36 disc reflector
  1. Selens 24 inch reflector with stand

BEST DIFFUSERS FOR DIFFUSING SUNLIGHT : If the sun is too bright youll need to block some of the light to help get softer lighting. Diffusers are the answer. Below we have a few recommended diffusers to use outside.

  • Glow 12 x12 
  • Glow 8×8
  • Pro studio Handheld diffuser w bag

FINAL THOUGHTS: Each situation is unique. Depending on what you are looking to capture you may want to move lights around and change the intensity of each light source . Keep these lighting principles in mind …..however remember its ok to break the rules! Now go create!



In some situations you may want a fill on your subject that is darker than the ambient light that is on subject. To achieve a negative fill, you must block the light filling the subject. This technique is called “negative fill”


Cinematic images are very dark and mysterious. To create cinematic FIll lighting keep the intensity of the light low with a high contrast. Flat images are not cinematic, make sure you control lighting to retain shape.


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