Lighting Techniques #2: Cross-backlighting

A common scenario in filmmaking is that you have two characters standing talking to each other and you need to do a two-shot and an over-the-shoulder of each. A quick way to light this kind of scene is cross-lighting: you set up two lamps so that each lamp serves as one character’s backlight and the other’s keylight.

I practice what I like to call cross-backlighting. What I mean by this is that the lamps are both on the opposite side of the actors’ eyeline to the camera. The result is that the downsides of their faces are lit. (Check out this post on key angles if you’re not sure what I mean by downside.)

This old Soul Searcher lighting featurette covers cross-backlighting around the 5:30 mark.

Here’s a super-recent example of cross-backlighting in action, on the set of The Gong Fu Connection. I’ve complicated things a bit though here. I’ve decided I want the characters’ keylights to be softer and cooler in colour than their backlights.


So there’s actually a dedo and an LED panel behind each actor. The camera is set to a white balance of 3,200K. Each dedo provides a strong, white backlight, narrowly focused so as not to spill onto the opposite actor’s face. The LED panels, positioned much closer to the talent, provide a slightly softer light with a dialled-in temperature of 4,500K.

Sketch 2014-08-15 07_29_38


For the close-ups I repurposed the LED panel that wasn’t being used as a background light, dialling it back to 3,200K to match with the location’s existing tungsten lighting that was already doing a lot of the work.


When we got to Carmina’s close-up I decided the LED panel alone was still too harsh, so I bounced it off the silver side of a collapsible reflector. I adjusted the panel to an angle where just a little direct light was hitting the side of Carmina’s face, and this kind of blends with the bounced light to provide a gentle wrapping illumination.

Stay tuned for more lighting techniques.

Lighting Techniques #2: Cross-backlighting