Cross-light is illumination which comes in from the side, raking across a surface. At this angle, every last bump and imperfection in a surface will cast a big shadow. Terrible for beauty lighting, but brilliant for emphasising textures.
And emphasising textures is a key part of photographing period pieces, as I learnt on The First Musketeer. In this post I’ll highlight a few examples of this technique throughout the show. (The whole series is on YouTube now so you can enjoy all six action-packed episodes at your leisure.)
At 2:27 in episode 1, Lazare and Ghislain enter an inn. Most of the scene is lit very simply with two cross-lights. One is an open-face 800W tungsten lamp coming in through a doorway off camera right; this bring outs all the texture in the back wall. The other is a 2.5K HMI coming in through the beautiful purple-tinted window on camera left; this also brings out texture – in the men’s faces! Cross-lighting is well suited to these characters, who (I hope they won’t mind me saying) are grizzled old soldiers.
(At 8:20 in episode 1 you can see what can happen when you don’t cross-light. Part of the reason that the location here looks like a flat, painted set is that the lighting is all frontal.)
The first scene of episode 3, at 0:33, is one of my favourites for lighting. The angle on Ghislain and Porthos practicing is lit by just two Kinoflo Barflies hung from the ceiling at the back of shot. These backlight the characters while also cross-lighting (vertically rather than horizontally) the stonework nicely.
In the reverse (above) a 1.2K HMI outside the door rakes across the wall. A little smoke adds additional texture, while the Barflies (now above Athos and Lazare) provide backlight again.
There’s a shot at 5:12 in episode 5 where, again, a 1.2K HMI outside the door rakes across a wall, showing up the folds in an old tapestry.
Finally, in the secret room, seen in episodes 4 and 6 (at 6:41), 100W bulbs hidden behind the candles cross-light the surrounding stonework.
The First Musketeer (C) 2014 First Musketeer Ltd. Written, directed & produced by Harriet Sams.