Definition: Gobo (lighting); Gobos;

Definition: Gobo (lighting); Gobos; | Glossary entry

Gobo (lighting); Gobos;

In photography a gobo is used as a type of light modifier.

The term gobo is derived from “goes before”. In original form the gobo was inserted in theatrical lights before the lens so it could create a sharp shape of light out of the light unit. However, the term has been extended over recent years particularly in respect to theatre.

Today, gobos can be almost any form of modifier placed on or near a light unit to shape the light. It is an addition to the light equipment, not necessarily a standard part of the light unit. A gobo is used with studio light units, strobes or flash and theatre lights.

The term gobo has a number of broad meanings in photographic use as follows…

  • A card, screen, or other blocking set-up placed near a light to create shape or pattern of light and shadow together. It may also be used to part block or redirect the light beam from an artificial light source.
  • A blocking mask with a designed shape cut out of it. This type of gobo is placed in front of projected light and used to project a particular light-shape onto a theatre set or photographic scene.
  • A gobo may also be used to create negative fill, shadow or deeper shadow on an area of the scene to induce mood.
  • A light modifier which is jury rigged around or on a light to help shape or direct the light while in use.
  • A template or mask placed directly in the light beam which shapes the shadows for some theatrical or photographic scene.
  • A form of light modifier that allows some light through but which casts a specific shadow or diffusion shape.

Gobos are often made up specifically for one task on a shoot. For example specific wooden frames may be made for the light to pass through and cast a frame shape. This imitates the light and frame-shadow from a window on the floor of a scene. They are often used by prop-makers and scene designers to create atmosphere in the scene.

The term gobo is sometimes confused with a ‘flag’ which is used especially to prevent stray light from causing lens flare and for creating and manipulating shadows.

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Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photographer and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
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