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Final Cut Pro X: A Fill Light in Post
Iain Anderson on Sat, September 22nd 0 comments
Explore how to add light to an area of your shot footage in post using Final Cut Pro X with your expert step-by-step guide, Iain Anderson.

The DP was having an off day? The dog ate your lighting kit? The family member holding the reflector got distracted by their phone? Well, for whatever reason, you didn't get the light you wanted on your subject. Here, we will explore how to add light to an area of an image in Final Cut Pro X '" and it's easy. So can you fix it? Probably! Let's find out how.


What's a fill light anyway?

It's a light that fills in a shadow, softer than the (main) key light. We're not going to go into the details of lighting theory, but here's Wikipedia's take. If you've only got a key light, or you just took advantage of existing lighting, the result is likely be be a bit harsh. FCP X can help us to to soften the image.

No correction applied.

No correction applied.


To start, create a new Project in FCP X, then Append a medium-to-close shot of a person, such as an interview. Select the clip in your Project.

A shot, in a Project, selected.

A shot, in a Project, selected.


Add a shape mask

Open the Inspector, then choose the Video tab at the top, and locate the Color section below. To the right of Correction 1, you'll see two icons, then an arrow, which should be grey. The first of those icons, with the eyedropper, selects a Color Mask, and we won't be using that. The second icon, the hollow circle inside a rectangle with a plus at the corner, creates a Shape Mask '" press it. You'll create a circle, with several handles, over your image in the viewer.

In the Correction 1 line, that's Add Color Mask, Add Shape Mask, Reset Correction (the arrow) and Show Correction.

In the Correction 1 line, that's Add Color Mask, Add Shape Mask, Reset Correction (the arrow) and Show Correction.


Adjust the shape mask

The green dots let you change the size and shape of the mask, so change the width and height to roughly match the dark area in your image. Use the center control to move the mask around. The small white control affects the squareness of the mask, and the small green dot with a white outline near the center point controls the rotation of the mask. Lastly, the outer white line controls the falloff, or edge softening, of the mask. The mask fades away between the inner line and the outer line, so moving the outer line further out makes the mask softer and less obvious.

Here's a mask, repositioned and resized.

Here's a mask, repositioned and resized.


Move the mask to cover the shadow at least roughly '" you can re-adjust it later. Back in the Inspector, press the grey arrow to the right of the mask buttons on Correction 1 to enter the Color Board.

Add a correction inside the mask

Now that we're able to adjust the correction, make sure that Inside Mask is chosen at the bottom of this panel '" it should be. It's possible to correct either side of the mask, but inside is what we want now. Switch to the Exposure panel, and push the Midtones puck up just a little, about 10-20%. If you're adding a bit of extra light to a face, this is probably the quickest way to do it without changing the shadows.

Here's the Midtones puck pushed up by 20%.

Here's the Midtones puck pushed up by 20%.


If the edges of the correction are visible, tweak the mask '" reposition it, resize it, rotate it, or soften the edges.

Animate the mask with keyframes

For a static subject, you could be done. Yet, if the subject is moving, you'll want to keyframe the position of the mask to track your subject. Hover your mouse to the right of the line named Shape Mask 1, and you'll see a white diamond with a plus inside. Click it to create a keyframe, turning the white diamond into a yellow diamond '" with an X inside while your cursor is over it. You've now locked the position of the mask at that point in time.

One or more keyframes look like this.

One or more keyframes look like this.


Now move along your timeline, repositioning the mask each time your subject starts to move, and when they stop moving. Keyframes will be created automatically each time you move the mask. If the mask disappears at any point, just press the mask button on the Shape Mask 1 line (not the Add Shape Mask button above) and the mask will pop back up.

Best of luck!

With the virtual fill light applied.

With the virtual fill light applied.

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