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Education Lighting Production Blog Tutorials

2 Steps to Easy Lighting! The Back Cross Key

Laura Beth Feb 01

Start Simple

Lighting schemes can become extremely complicated, but they can also be very simple.  When you are first starting out, start simple.  (Watch my Two-Minute Lighting Tutorial)

Whether I have two lights in the trunk of a sedan or 20 lights on a truck, the back cross key is one of my favorite tools in the lighting toolbox.  It isn’t really a style, or a”look,” but rather one tiny element used to build your look.

Easy Lighting - Back Cross Key - Laura Beth Love DP

Two Steps, Two Lights

In nearly all situations in which two actors are talking to each other, or otherwise facing at each other, the back cross key is a fantastic starting point.

To Start a Back Cross Key is Simple:

Two key lights, pointed at two actors.

Each light provides a key light for one actor, while simultaneously providing a backlight for the other actor.

The lights should be placed on the upstage side of the line of action (the opposite side of the line of action (the side opposite from the camera) so that shadows will fall toward camera.


Back Cross Key in feature "Bachelor Night"

Back Cross Key in the comedy feature, “Bachelor Night”

Keep it Interesting

Look to your location, and your story, for clues as to how you should customize your back cross key.



You don’t have to use two of the same lights, and they don’t have to be placed symmetrically.



  • Your back cross key might come from two windows, or one window and the return (bounce) from the wall across from that window.
  • A back cross key could be made from two table lamps, or a practical lamp and a blue TV-flicker lighting effect.
  • One could be high, and one could be low; one half of the back cross might be brighter than the other half.
  • One light might be broken up with a lace curtain, and the other not.
  • They can be different colors.
Back Cross Key on the drama feature, "The Miracle of Tony Davis"

Back Cross Key on the drama feature, “The Miracle of Tony Davis”


Any and every combination you can imagination can be used to adapt your back cross key to fit your environment, and fit your story.

Sometimes, you may choose to use just a “back cross” without the backlight.

This might be helpful in a tight space where you can’t quite get an angle for your lights to be both key light AND back light at the same time.

Then What?

A Sample Back Cross Key on the thriller feature, "Tabloid Vivant"

Back Cross Key on the thriller feature, “Tabloid Vivant”


Your lighting scheme might stop there, or you might add fill, a textured background light, practicals, kickers, eye-lights…. the list goes on.  It depends on your location, resources, time, and, most of all, the story you are trying to tell!

Whether it is a comedy, drama, horror, thriller... it doesn’t matter!  That’s where all of the OTHER choices you make in your lighting scheme come in to play…and ultimately reflect your personal style and nuance.

Good luck!  And let me know how it goes!

Watch my Two-Minute Lighting Tutorial!

See All Filmmaking Resource Articles from LBLove.com!

Copyright © Laura Beth Love and LBLove.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laura Beth Love and LBLove.com, as appropriate, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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