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How to Use a Snoot in Photography: The Complete Guide

how to use a snoot in photography

What is a snoot in photography, and how can you use one for stunning photos?

That’s what this article is all about.

I’m going to take you through everything you need to know about snoots – including what they are, why they matter, and how you can use them to capture stunning images.

So if you’re ready to become a snoot expert…

…then let’s get started.

What is a snoot?

A snoot is basically a tube that goes over the front of your flash unit and creates a hard, concentrated beam of light.

a snoot and a snoot-shaped Rogue FlashBender
Two examples of snoots mounted to flashes.

A snoot allows you to light your main subject – without lighting the surrounding scene. And this can be great for dramatic, low key photography.

snoot in photography
A snoot is good for directing the light and creating low key images with lots of contrast.
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 50mm f/1.2L | 1/20s | f/2 | ISO 400

Now, you can pick up a snoot from plenty of off-camera lighting manufacturers. (More on that in a moment!)

But because snoots are simple, you can actually make your own, which is what the next section is all about.

Making your own DIY snoot

You can make your own snoot using basic household objects. You just need to make a tube that fits over your flash!

There are some design elements you must consider, though. For instance, you’ll want a color-neutral material, because if your snoot includes intense colors, you might get unwanted casts in your photos.

Bearing this in mind, here are the two simplest options for creating snoots:

  • Cereal box: Cut the box into a rectangular prism with a hole at either end. Add black tape around the outside of the snoot to prevent light from leaking out.
  • Pringles tube: Cut a hole in one end of the Pringles tube for the flash to fit inside, making sure the tube sits straight on your flash (so you get a clear, directed beam of light).

In either case, you can modify the type of light the snoot creates by making the snoot longer or shorter.

Just remember:

The longer the snoot, the smaller and more concentrated your source of light will be.

Buying a snoot

The other option is to buy a snoot, and there are plenty of good snoots available for you to choose from.

Here’s a nice snoot you can grab at a great price.

That said, given how easy it is to make an effective snoot yourself, if you’re going to buy one, you may want it to have some sort of extra functionality.

That’s why I highly recommend the Rogue FlashBender, which can be used as a snoot, a reflector, or a softbox.

(In other words: You get your money’s worth!)

When to use a snoot in photography

A snoot can be a highly useful tool in the studio.

Broadly speaking, a snoot produces hard light, which creates lots of shadows. A snoot also creates lots of contrast between your subject and the background (assuming the background isn’t lit independently).

Let’s take a look at a few cases where you might want to use a snoot:


Have you ever used a flashlight on a dark night to light up your face in a spooky way?

If so, you’ve essentially spotlighted your face – and broadly speaking, you’re doing the same with a flash and snoot.

Now, you can go for that spooky effect with a snoot, but you can also direct your light in different ways for different spotlight effects. You can highlight various parts of your subject while keeping the background dark, which tends to look both stunning and dramatic.

Low key effect

Low key photography involves partially underexposing your shots for a mostly black image.

Like this:

low key snoot photography
This is an example of low key light produced by a snoot.
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 135mm f/2L | 1/60s | f/5.6 | ISO 640

And a snoot is the perfect tool to create this type of image.

Simply direct your light at the main subject, whether that’s a still life or a model’s face. And ensure the light falls off before hitting the background for that dark, dramatic, low key look.

Rim light

You can use snoots to create beautiful rim lighting – which is any form of light that hits the edge of your subject.

And one of the most useful forms of rim lighting is the hair light.

By using a snoot to direct rim light (i.e., hair light) onto the back of a model’s head, you can add depth and interest to a photo, without impacting the front of the subject or the background.

For the best results, keep the rim light a little to the side and out of frame.

Of course, a rim light is only part of a lighting setup, so you’ll want to use it in conjunction with other lights. That way, you can capture a portrait like this one:

snoot for a rim light effect
A hair light helps create a better-quality portrait photo.
Canon 5D Mark III | Canon 135mm f/2L | 1/200s | f/3.2 | ISO 100


While photographers generally keep their off-camera lights out of the frame…

…there may be times when you want the lights to appear in your photos!

Specifically, you can use a snoot to create lens flare, as shown in the photo below:

snoot in photography to create lens flare
Snooted strobes can be used to create lens flare when pointed toward the camera.
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 17-40mm f/4L | 42 seconds | f/5 | ISO 250

Now, you can create this artistic effect with several light modifiers (or just a naked flash).

But a snooted flash will help you control the light, so the source appears to be some sort of street light, rather than a flash unit.

How to use a snoot effectively

When using a snoot in photography, you’ll want to think about a few key factors, including:

  • The direction of the light
  • The distance of the flash
  • The length of the snoot
  • The brightness of the flash

These will dramatically impact how your photos turn out – so if you’re looking to really fine-tune your snoot photography, make sure you pay careful attention to the next few sections.

Direction of the light

Thinking about the direction of light is important in all forms of photography, but it is essential when working with a concentrated beam of light.

By positioning your snoot behind the subject, in front of the subject, or off to the side of the subject, you’ll get dramatically different results – so before taking a single shot, ask yourself:

What am I hoping to achieve with this snoot?

And position your snooted flash accordingly.

Distance of the flash

The distance from the flash to the main subject has three effects when used with a snoot:

First, the farther the flash is from the subject, the less bright the light becomes. If you position your light at the back of the room, you’ll get a darker image (though you can always adjust your exposure to compensate for the reduced light intensity).

Second, the farther the flash is from the subject, the harder the light becomes. If you’re looking for a softer effect with more gradual shadows, you’ll want to keep your snooted flash close to your subject – whereas if you’re after a harder effect with abrupt transitions from light to shadow, then you’ll need to increase the distance between the flash and the subject.

Third, as the distance between the flash and the main subject increases, the light radius becomes larger. This allows you to light more of your subject – so if you want to light your subject’s entire body, move the snooted flash back, whereas if you want to light only your subject’s head, you’ll need to move the flash in close.

Length of the snoot

Snoots can come in different lengths, with longer snoots offering a more concentrated beam of light, and shorter snoots producing wider lighting effects. Depending on the snoot length, you can create a precise spotlight effect, or you can widen the flash beam to light the entire scene.

Some snoots are actually adjustable, and if you make DIY snoots, you can create several of differing lengths.

Brightness of the flash

Of course, the brightness of the flash also needs to be considered.

You see, the light you’re creating with a snoot is going to be hard light. The subject will be lit, and the background will likely be dark.

But if you wish to show some background detail via ambient light, you can reduce the intensity of the flash and increase the exposure on your camera.

The key is to make sure the area lit by the flash is correctly exposed, then adjust your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO accordingly.

How will you use a snoot in photography?

smoke with direct strobe light
The smoke in this photo was picked up by directed light from a strobe.
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 135mm f/2L | 1/200s | f/7.1 | ISO 160

Using a snoot in photography gives you plenty of artistic options.

A snoot is a simple, cheap, and effective way of doing something different with your photography.

So make sure you remember the tips and techniques I shared in this article…

…and start practicing with a snoot right away.

Have you tried photographing with a snoot? How did it go? Share your thoughts and photos in the comments below!

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.

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