|Sometimes when you look at things from a different angle, you see them in a new light. This strongly applies to photography, which, after all, is about light. Despite the hype and the popular misconception that photography is all about digital cameras and smart software--wrong!--it is all about light.
Normally, when a photographer takes pictures, the subjects are front lit. Shooting outdoors, most of us will unconsciously arrange ourselves so the sun is over our shoulders so it will be the front light. This insures bright faces and well-lit objects. In front lighting, in general, the shadows are filled by the reflected light bouncing off various surfaces: sidewalks, buildings, or simply the blue sky. In the studio, we try to replicate this lighting by placing a light to either side of the camera in front of the subject. One light is usually brighter (or just nearer the subject) and is called the main light. The other light, which is dimmer or a bit farther away from the subject, is the fill.
Cross-lighting, however, is different from front- or back-lighting situations because the lights are arranged diagonally across from each other. The bigger, bright light is placed behind the subject to one side or the other. The smaller light is in front of the subject, but in one corner and facing the big light. (See the lighting-diagram sketch.) Angling these lights so they face each other along a line about 45 degrees off center is the key to cross-lighting.
Unlike in the normal way of photographing things, the smaller light is acting as the main light. The bigger light is sort of an ''uber-fill.'' Backgrounds play a role in cross-lighting, too, because we set the lights up so as little light as possible falls on the background. This helps to separate the subject from the background.
Compare, for instance, the two images of the vase and you can see the colors are richer on the cross-lit image, due in part to the single front light. Surface textures are given their shape by the light coming from one side or another of the piece. With two equal lights, the surface texture is reduced because the two lights cancel out each other's shadows, effectively ''flattening'' the surface. Another benefit of cross-lighting is that there are fewer hot spots to deal with, since there is only one front light instead of two.
For crafts photography, cross-lighting is a great way to add a different look to your photographs and to deal with shiny surfaces, especially glass or Plexiglas®. The photos of the glass bowl illustrate this. They also show how experimenting with the relative brightness of the two lights can affect the image.
For the next image--''Bowl, second attempt''--I moved the front light even farther away from the background. Now the light falling on the front of the bowl was about half the brightness of the rear light. The result is a photo with a shadow that is deeply colored and much more interesting.
Of course, as the light is moved away from the bowl, the exposure changes. Since I was shooting in the A mode, the camera compensated for the lower-light level by using a slow shutter speed.
Finally I offer the photo of the teapot and teacup to illustrate how the shadows themselves can add an interesting element to an image. The parallel forward-thrusting shadows add a sense of unity, a sense of ''set'' to the image, and it simply would not be there with front lighting.
Cross-lighting isn't for every type of craft object, but it is an interesting way to light work and well worth trying for yourself.
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