LIGHT VS SHADOW - YOUR GUIDE TO V FLATS
Adding light, or fill, to a photographic scene is so common in photography that there are several different methods to accomplish it, from additional strobes to reflectors and V-flats. But what steps can a photographer take to remove light from a scene?
Light control is a skill all photographers should cultivate. The ability to control light allows photographers to tell very specific stories, flatter their subjects, create mood, and make compelling images.
Photographers often focus on controlling and modifying the source of the light, creating different light shapes, diffusing, reflecting, and adding color to the light. But controlling where light goes and what the shadows look like and how dense they are in relation to the available light is an equally important skill photographers should cultivate.
This is where negative fill comes into play.
To understand negative fill, it’s important to understand the basic physics of light behavior. Light spreads and dissipates as it travels from the source. While light is moving through an environment it will encounter objects that modify its quantity, quality, color, and direction through reflection, diffusion, transmission, refraction, and absorption.
Reflection: When light bounces off a subject at an angle equal to the angle of incidence.
Diffusion: When light is spread or scattered.
Transmission: When light travels through a medium without being reflected or absorbed.
Refraction: When light is bent, such as through water or a prism.
Absorption: When light strikes an object and instead of being reflected, the light energy changes to heat energy.
Negative fill takes advantage of the physical property of both absorption and reflection. The black surface of the v flat absorbs the light, stopping it from bouncing around in the environment and being reflected back into the shadows.
WHAT IS A V-FLAT?
A V-flat is composed of two large pieces of foam core joined at one side so that it’s shaped like a V when opened. Foam core is created by sandwiching a thin piece of dense foam between two pieces of thick, poster board-like paper. While a V-flat can be created from other material, such as insulation boards or other foam-like objects, they’re typically made of foam core because it is sturdy, lightweight, and the surface is smooth enough not to be distracting in a photograph.
The surfaces of v flats can be entirely white, black, or black on one side and white on the other. They can also be painted or draped with fabric or wallpaper.
The white side of the V-flat adds light to a scene, while the black side of the V-flat reduces light in a scene. V-flats can also be used as flags to block light and stop bounced light from contaminating shadows.
WHEN TO USE NEGATIVE FILL
Since negative fill stops light from entering or being reflected back into the scene, negative fill can be used any time you want to add contrast. You can use negative fill to darken a background, to darken the shadows on your subject, or to make the edges of a product stand out more against a background.
V-flats are often used to create edge contrast when coupled with flat, forward lighting, such as in the section of the tutorial Luxe Portraiture and Retouching with Jai Mayhew in the paragraphs above.
HOW TO USE A VFLAT
To use a V-flat to create negative fill, you’ll want to open the v flat so it stands on it’s own, then add the V-flat to the scene and position it so the black side is facing the area you want to remove light from.
The closer the V-flat is to the subject, the darker the shadows will be. The farther the V-flat is from the subject, the more open the shadows will be because there is more space for light to spread and reflect.
V-flats are one of the most versatile tools in a photographer’s arsenal. They’re inexpensive, they stand on their own, they can reflect light, hold a backdrop, or act like a flag. And while they’re often used to add subtle fill light to a scene, they can also be used for negative fill--to take light out of the scene. Adding V-flats to your photographers toolkit will give you infinitely more control over your light.
And while V-flats are the most common tools for creating negative fill, they aren’t the only object photographers can use to remove light from a scene and add contrast. Black fabric and black poster board or paper can also “eat” light, creating more contrast.
Whether you have a V-flat or just use a piece of black fabric, using negative fill is just another tool photographers have for controlling light.
If you enjoyed this lesson, check out the whole Luxe Portraiture tutorial to learn all that there is to know about studio lighting!