Using Gobos To Create Dramatic Lighting - Digital Photography School

Using Gobos To Create Dramatic Lighting

When lighting a subject, one of the things you want to try to do is create drama, or a context, using the light. This often means modifying your light source. One of the easiest ways to modify your flash to create a context, or drama, is to use a gobo.

In this shot, the gobo was used on the background light, to create the illusion of light shining through window blinds. The off camera flash was a Canon 580 EX II, with the gobo positioned in front of it. The light on the model was a 580 EX II in a Westcott 18x42 strip box.

In this shot, the gobo was used on the background light, to create the illusion of light shining through window blinds. The off camera flash was a Canon 580 EX II, with the gobo positioned in front of it. The light on the model was a 580 EX II in a Westcott 18×42 strip box.

Gobos are templates that go in front of your light source (“Goes Between” your light source and the subject)  that have patterns cut out that control the shape of the light.  They can help add mood, create the idea of a setting or context, and add interest.

This is my homemade "windowblinds" gobo.  It's probably a bit larger than it needs to be, but this helps ensure that it blocks out any unwanted stray light. You want to use flat black oak tag or mat board, as the black minimizes any reflecting light.  Using a lighter colored material would reflect light that may not be wanted in the image.

This is my homemade “windowblinds” gobo. It’s probably a bit larger (about 20×30) than it needs to be, but this helps ensure that it blocks out any unwanted stray light. You want to use flat black oak tag or mat board, as the black minimizes any reflecting light. Using a lighter colored material would reflect light that may not be wanted in the image.

Gobos can be purchased, but often times, the available patterns may not fit your need.  In addition, they are relatively easy to make yourself and thus customize as needed.

Simply go to the nearest arts and crafts store, choose a piece of black oak tag, and a razor blade or exacto knife, and cut the desired pattern out.  The pattern doesn’t need to be too large, keep in mind how large the flash beam is going to be at the point that it hits the gobo. 

You may need to experiment a bit with the size and distance before getting the desired effect.

I will place the flash on a light stand, and then simply use a second light stand and use an A-clamp or two to hold the gobo in place.  This way I can experiment easily with how far the gobo should be from the flash, and how far from the subject or background.  A magic arm attached the light stand holding the flash will also work for holding the gobo.

For the accompanying photos, I wanted to create a night time mood, light projecting through the window blinds onto the wall from a street lamp.  So I simply took the piece of black oak tag and cut a series of rectangles in it. When projecting flash through it, it resembles light shining through window blinds.

There are myriad other patterns that could be used to create various moods and effects.  Play around and see what you come up with!

You can also use the gobo to modify light projected onto your main subject. In this instance, it creates an air of mystery about the subject.

You can also use the gobo to modify light projected onto your main subject. In this instance, it creates an air of mystery about the subject.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • http://www.portraitinspiration.com Jai Catalano

    The first one doesn’t look so bad. I actually like the simplicity of it but the second looks like she doesn’t have a nose. The reason it appears that way is that the lines are asymmetrical once they hit her face.

  • Dhanus Samsen

    I now understand why my gobo doesn’t work before, IT WAS TOO SMALL!!

    Thank you so much!

    I think the 2nd picture looks fine for this purpose, it’s said to be mysterious feeling and it is

  • Scottc

    Cool idea, never heard of this before and easy to make. Great photos as well. I really like patterns of light in my photos, this is something I will try. Thanks.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8208885076/

  • Andrew

    Hi,
    Sorry, are measurements in inches? If 20×30 is to big, what size would you say would be better? Also, what are the dimensions for the slots in the middle if the gobo, I don’t have a workshop or tools, so if I was going to ask some one to create something like this, more detail would be handy. Thanks.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    Andrew, probably could get away with something around 11×14 inches. You need it large enough to block out the rest of the flash. As for the measurements, the slats are about 6 inches long, and spaced 1 inch apart. But feel free to experiment. I need to make a few more, different patterns.

  • Skeet Creekmore

    First, what does ‘gobo’ mean? Very much like the effect – literally limitless designs. Can a gobo work wit alternate light sources – regular low wattage household lamp for example?
    Really like the effect created by the cross face effect as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    As I mentioned, “gobo” means “goes between” light and subject. Or, even more literally, “Goes Before Optics”. In other words, it manipulates the light before it enters the lens.
    As for using with household lighting, that’s something I’ve never tried. I don’t know if the light would be strong enough to make it work. Worth trying.

  • http://www.dsouzaimages.com NEILL DSOUZA

    Thanks for the share… i guess i will use it for dramatic lighting… Simple yet interesting….

  • Kyriacos Sakkas

    Don’t know if there is a technical name for it, but i am fairly bald and find that turning the flash head backwards and bouncing of my scalp creates some beautiful flesh tones for portraits (Both colour temperature and luminosity change).

  • http://www.bbaven.com Bambara Aven

    Rick-I like this look and am going to try it out very soon. The model looks like a former student of mine. Are her initials DH? I’d love to know, she moved up north during her high school years. Thanks.

  • Me

    Great lighting, but terrible retouching…

  • Rick Berk

    Nothing like a person who criticizes but hides behind an unoriginal yet anonymous internet moniker. Would you care to be more specific? And perhaps share some of your own work? For the record I’ve never had a client complain about my retouching. And most come back again and again.

  • Geoff

    Love the blinds look. Can’t wait to try myself.

  • Cal

    Rick, Nice transition to a hard look,… love it, bet you could do the same with a soft subdue look, like using a “Cookie” to broadcast a soft shadow… say a slightly blown branch with leaves onto an exterior window (for video) or a still photo, that falls onto an interior/exterior wall, behind the model…. well you get the idea ;)

Some older comments

  • Kyriacos Sakkas

    March 5, 2013 01:30 am

    Don't know if there is a technical name for it, but i am fairly bald and find that turning the flash head backwards and bouncing of my scalp creates some beautiful flesh tones for portraits (Both colour temperature and luminosity change).

  • NEILL DSOUZA

    March 5, 2013 12:04 am

    Thanks for the share... i guess i will use it for dramatic lighting... Simple yet interesting....

  • Rick Berk

    March 1, 2013 12:12 pm

    As I mentioned, "gobo" means "goes between" light and subject. Or, even more literally, "Goes Before Optics". In other words, it manipulates the light before it enters the lens.
    As for using with household lighting, that's something I've never tried. I don't know if the light would be strong enough to make it work. Worth trying.

  • Skeet Creekmore

    March 1, 2013 04:39 am

    First, what does 'gobo' mean? Very much like the effect - literally limitless designs. Can a gobo work wit alternate light sources - regular low wattage household lamp for example?
    Really like the effect created by the cross face effect as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • Rick Berk

    February 26, 2013 11:13 am

    Andrew, probably could get away with something around 11x14 inches. You need it large enough to block out the rest of the flash. As for the measurements, the slats are about 6 inches long, and spaced 1 inch apart. But feel free to experiment. I need to make a few more, different patterns.

  • Andrew

    February 26, 2013 10:34 am

    Hi,
    Sorry, are measurements in inches? If 20x30 is to big, what size would you say would be better? Also, what are the dimensions for the slots in the middle if the gobo, I don't have a workshop or tools, so if I was going to ask some one to create something like this, more detail would be handy. Thanks.

  • Scottc

    February 26, 2013 09:29 am

    Cool idea, never heard of this before and easy to make. Great photos as well. I really like patterns of light in my photos, this is something I will try. Thanks.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8208885076/

  • Dhanus Samsen

    February 26, 2013 04:22 am

    I now understand why my gobo doesn't work before, IT WAS TOO SMALL!!

    Thank you so much!

    I think the 2nd picture looks fine for this purpose, it's said to be mysterious feeling and it is

  • Jai Catalano

    February 26, 2013 03:23 am

    The first one doesn't look so bad. I actually like the simplicity of it but the second looks like she doesn't have a nose. The reason it appears that way is that the lines are asymmetrical once they hit her face.

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