What is the difference between an active and a passive fill light? I have an assignment that states to "use active or passive fill light" in a picture, but I need some clarification to understand what that means.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ On the plus side, the usage of 'or' means that it is hard to choose wrong! \$\endgroup\$
    – Phil
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 9:52

2 Answers 2


Passive lighting is reflected light, such as with reflectors. Active is the opposite, an actual source of light, such as a light bulb or flash.

But I must say these are terms I try to avoid since many people have different views on this. I really only use the term Passive lighting when I am outside and use a reflector to bounce the sun.

I am not sure if there is such a thing as specific "fill light" version of passive and active.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What are some of the different views that people may have? \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 4:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Imre I've heard people say that only ambient lighting is to be counted as passive, reflected or not. Such as a tv, monitor, fish tank or whatever else that reflects, refracts or emits light but where that is not the intended feature. Others I know would count a TV as being active light. Difficult to get a very clear meaning in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alendri
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 23:12

According to Scott Palmer in his book Light (2013), passive and active light were at the core of Adolphe Appia's creative vision. 'The passive or diffused light refers to the general light of the stage area usually from footlights and border lights, which were common to existing stage practices at the end of the nineteenth century and were principally concerned with the widespread illumination of the stage space. In contrast, active light refers to intense, focused light that crucially allows distinct shadows to be created.'

I hope this may clear some things up for you, if it is still helpful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain how this relates to photography? The entire excerpt you quoted apparently has to do only with theater lighting. \$\endgroup\$
    – j_foster
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 23:59

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