Guest Post & Photos by Abba Shapiro — Follow Abba on Twitter

Final Image Canon EOS 5D Mark III Shutter speed 1/125   Exposure: 6.3 ISO 100 Canon 240105@97MM Post-processed with Silver Efex Pro and Photoshop

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Shutter speed 1/125 | Exposure: 6.3 | ISO 100
Canon 240105@97MM
Post-processed with Silver Efex Pro and Photoshop

I find when photographing people – controlling light is the key.

I often see photographers diligently re-positioning their strobes to control the light – but rarely controlling the dark.  Negative fill can make or break an image.  Light is a pesky fellow – it can bounce around a room, reflect of odd surfaces, and light your talent from angles you never expected.  That is where negative fill come in.  Large pieces of black foam core or black reflectors, which block stray reflections and absorb ambient light from your strobes.

I usually try to place this negative fill as close to my subject as possible – sometimes so close that I require Photoshop to hide or remove it.  Usually the closer it is  – the better it works – however sometimes placing your negative-fill too close can actually throw light on your subject.. Black is black – but bear in mind different surfaces have different levels of reflectivity – so you may get different results from a piece of foam core vs. a black pop-out reflector.  And when it comes to fabrics satin, muslin, felt and velvet will all give different results.

Test shot — Model: Brynn Canon EOS 5D Mark III Shutter speed 1/125   Exposure: F4 ISO 100 Canon 240105@47MM

Test shot — Model: Brynn
Canon EOS 5D Mark III 
Shutter speed 1/125 | Exposure: ƒ4 | ISO 100
Canon 240105@47MM

In this shot I wanted quite a dramatic contrast between the light and dark areas…so in addition to using negative fill, I lit using a single strobe modified with a 1 X 3 strip box and fabric grid. I did a test shot without the model first to ensure that there was no stray light.  I then positioned her and the light and took meter readings at her cheek, shoulder, and hip. During the shoot I had her selectively rotate parts of body to vary the amount to light falling on her face and torso.

Everything was shot Camera Raw and a “bit to the right” – Which basically meant I over-exposed the image about one stop.  I know that way I could still bring back the details in the highlights and maintain very clean shadows.

In post I converted the image to Black and white with Silver Effects Pro and placed a vignette over the image to further control the shadows

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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. […] the flash to shield light. This is tied to the concept of “negative fill flash”, read this enlightening post from for more info [not safe for work, naked […]


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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.


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