Witnessing the lighting set up on a shot recreating a Hollywood film changed Drake's perspective on lighting.

Photo: Kaitlyn Kerr

For longer than I’d like to admit, my understanding of lighting was extremely limited. Want to make a shadow? Put a light on the other side. Want to get rid of shadow? Point a light at it. That, along with a love for backlights pretty much defined how I looked at photo and video lighting for much of my career.

That all changed in 2018 during one of our shoots where we attempted to recreate a scene from the Michael Mann film 'Collateral.' The piece was shot and directed by the incredibly talented cinematographer Nick Thomas, and I found his approach to lighting fascinating.

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He lit Chris and I with a single large key light and added shadows using multiple Matthews ‘Floppy Cutters,’ big rectangles of black fabric that block light. By quickly moving this ‘negative fill’ around the actors, Nick was able to create an extremely cinematic look without requiring a truck full of lights.

A Floppy Cutter helps shape light by removing it.

Image: Matthews Studio Equipment

Since then, when shooting portraits or filming an interview, one of my first instincts is to pull out my own Matthews ‘Floppy’ and get creative adding some shadow to the subject’s face. When working as the Director of Photography on Levi Holwell’s 2019 short film 'A Walk Down To Water,' I used this tool extensively to create the desired mood, as well as to cut down on the amount of lighting equipment we were using in a location with little available power.

Both these shots are lit with a single light bounced off the ceiling, but the one on the right has a Matthews Floppy Cutter providing negative fill.

Photo: Evelyn Drake

I love the Matthew’s 'Floppy Cutter,' a professional, C-Stand-mountable negative fill, but you can create the same effect with black blankets or even black seamless paper. On your next shoot, bring along a little bit of black material and see if it doesn’t change the way you approach your lighting. It certainly changed everything for me.

Have you tried a Floppy Cutter or similar tactic for removing light? Let us know in the comments or upload an image in the forums to share you own work with the community.