Lighting 102 - 3.2: More On the Crosslight Thing

Judging from the questions a few of you are having trouble with the cross-lit sun technique we discussed last Thursday.

I want to revisit a few key things that you have to know to pull the technique off, and then Andrew is going to come to the front of the class to demonstrate. And besides, given that this went up on Thursday instead of Tuesday I am not going to be one of those hard-ass teachers and make you pull a quick turn to the next exercise.

(More after the jump.)

First, understand that with the ambient portion of your exposure your camera defines your upper limit -- i.e., how dark you can make the ambient. Set to the lowest ISO, the best you can do for darkening your ambient environment is to shoot at your max sync speed at the lowest aperture on your lens (i.e., likely f/16, /22, or /32).

You can get around this in a very clunky way with a neutral density filter, but it knocks down the flash, too. So your maximum lighting distance will stay the same.

Remember that this is built on a chosen ambient exposure that lets the shadows fall where they may, so you can light them back up with your flash. So you are limited to your sync speed for the ambient portion of the exposure, too.

Your working aperture, which will now be what determines your ambient exposure level, will also determine how far away you can stick your flash and still effectively light your subject.

In effect, the higher your max synch speed the farther away you can stick your flash and still pull the effect off. The lower your max synch speed, the closer your flash needs to be (not good for big group shots, obviously.)

If you have two flashes, you can gang them up with a Brewer Bracket or some ball bungees. That will give you double the light, which will amount to one more stop. This buys you more working distance on the flash and/or a darker ambient environment.


Strobist reader Andrew, who publishes, was nice enough to stick his process photos up as a series in this comment in the discussion thread.

Definitely check it out of you are having any trouble. He ran into a flash power issue and had to do a workaround in the form of opening up the sky one stop. Not his preference for the photo, but it makes it a much more illustrative example.

He has the process pix embedded in the comment, but the URLs are locked. (We were just going to borrow them, Andrew.) So you will have to click over to read about it.

Thanks for the helpful series and notes, Andrew.


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Anonymous jim benning said...

I know you and Chase Jarvis are friends so a cross post to his site re: creative use of higher shutter speeds to hack you camera sync speed would be appropriate to the coversation.

September 18, 2007 2:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think I speak for all of us when I say that you appear to only have the softest of asses.

Fear not, your favourite teacher status is well within acceptable tolerances!

September 18, 2007 8:24 AM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

Here's a more in-depth guide to how the boat photo was done:

September 18, 2007 2:11 PM  
Blogger Leo said...

So in this case the impressive high ISO performance of lastest greatest DSLRs are irelevent, as it's the ambient level the flash competes against. Why haven't electronic shutter bodies like the D70 taken over the market? Vendors not seeing enough demand?

September 19, 2007 12:50 AM  
Blogger Vincent said...

You mention the use of an ND filter in this article. It's not strictly strobe related, but obviously ND filters are another tool to control light. Have you discussed the ND filter's use in more detail anywhere? If not, I'd be very interested to hear any tips or tricks you have for using them. A google search produced some helpful results, but not much from a 'strobist' point of view.

February 10, 2009 5:25 PM  

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