Tag Archives: Lights

Know how to use a gobo? You have probably used them…

A gobo can be used to fit on off-camera flash units

• A gobo can be used to fit on off-camera flash units •

A simple idea – but so useful!

A gobo is used to block or shape light – normally using black screens of some sort. They’re commonly used in the movie industry, and more recently photography. Find out all about them here…

Of light and shadow

It sounds like a grand and mysterious name. In fact the term gobo is a rather straight forward. Here is what the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Gobo - Oxford English Dictionary | External link - opens new tab/page says…

gobo, (noun); gobos (plural)
Etymology: Unknown. Originally from the U.S.
1930 – Gobo, portable wall covered with sound-absorbing material.
1936 – A ‘gobo’ is a small black screen used to deflect light.
1970 – A gobo is anything that goes between, e.g., the light and the set.
OED (online) Seen 08/08/2013  External link - opens new tab/page

So, this wonderful little word seems to have been a compound word from “go between”. Hmmm! I would like to see some proof of that. The side entry in the OED says in red “This entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1972)”. Seems a long time without full qualification.

What is the Gobo really about? Manipulation of light and shadow. Our more technical definition in the Photographic Glossary (gobo) goes into more depth about how it is used in five broad ways in modern photography…

  • To block light or create shapes or patterns of light and shadow together.
  • A mask with a shape cut out of it fixed to the light and used to project a light shape (eg. a logo).
  • Cards/screens to create shaped shadow or deeper shadow in a scene.
  • A jury rigged light modifier on a light to shape or direct the light.
  • A mask placed in the light beam which shapes the light/shadow in the scene.
  • A light modifier allowing some light through and casts a specific shadow or diffusion shape

It is interesting that both the Hollywood studios and the OED use the term to manipulate and absorb sound. Of course in photography sound is less important. You can see however, that gobos are used to shape light and shadow in various ways.

How do gobos affect you?

If you have ever held your hand, a hat or a piece of card up to shade your lens to prevent flare or lens reflection you have used a ‘flag‘. Originally a gobo was the term used for protective devices to keep a lens out of incidental light. Now days the more specialist term, flag, is used for shield or blocking of light especially when it relates to the protection against lens flare. Understandable the two terms are easily mixed up. A flag seems to be used mainly for blocking light out. A gobo more for manipulating light, especially where that involves creating shadows.

Today I was photographing a white van in very bright overhead light. I keep a black blanket in my equipment for this type of situation. My assistant held up the blanket behind me to create a broad shadow across the corner of the van I was photographing to cut out the strong sun light. This is one form of gobo. It was not cutting out the light completely. I was reducing the very bright sunshine to an area of pure white so I could more easily pick out the details.

In a studio you might use a a black screen to intensify the darks in one area of a scene. It is a mood enhancer in this situation.

On another day I was working on business portraits. The office was a bright, but grey colour. We used plants on a trellis with a light behind it to create a shadow-pattern of leaves and diamond shapes onto the wall giving added interest to the background, breaking up the grey. This is a gobo too – being used to enhance the light/shadow ambiance.

More after this…

A solid light of the same colour and intensity across a still life is boring. Use cards or diffusion surfaces to vary the light and create slight shadows or graduate the light. One side of the still life use a black card to darken and block light. On the other side use white card to intensify and diffuse it.

A gobo is often used to shield the camera from light too, but it is not a flag. In A quick shoot using water? Tips to get you started… from yesterdays post a gobo could have been placed in front of a flash unit on the table. This would prevent the light getting directly back to the camera lens, but still project the light onto the back wall. A two in one gobo.

There is one further really fun use of gobos that is growing in photography. The recent growth of interest in light painting has renewed the interest in projecting shapes onto surfaces to be photographed. A black card with a logo or shape cut out of it can be placed directly in front of a light source. The light shining through the shape projects it onto a far surface. Then, in the dark, light painters can photograph the projection. Light painting is the intrepid art of photographing deliberately manipulated bright lights in the dark. It’s great fun!

What have we learned

A gobo is a term that describes the manipulation of the light shadow relationship. We use a range of blocking and masking techniques to manipulate the light and the gobos are the instruments of that manipulation. A flag on the other hand is a pure blocker of light.

Have fun thinking this one over. It is a useful concept and one that has infinite uses for mood, variation of shadow and creating settings.

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Simple positions for classic portrait work

The essence of portrait work lies in just five simple positions.

Nearly all the shots you take will be based on these simple set ups. All photography students learn to do these positions. The video today is all about how these sets are put together. It really is simple.

The five positions

The five simple positions are…

  • The Short: Often used to help rounder people have slightly longer faces. The face is angled so that the shadows are on the side of the face nearest to to the camera. The lighted side is on the side furthest from the camera.
  • The Broad: The subject faces the camera nearly straight on. The light comes in from the side. The shadow of the nose and the face on the other side of the nose are lit, but only softly.
  • The Rembrandt: A classic position – it is intended to show a triangle of light on the face on the side away from the light. The lighting is set high so that one side of the face is lit, and only the top of the cheek is lit on the other side.
  • Split lighting: one side of the face is lit. The other side is in soft shadow. This lighting technique is often used as a way of stopping shadow from a hat falling on the face.
  • The butterfly: The light is full on to the face. Generally this one is done slightly higher than the subjects head to ensure that the underside of the nose is slightly dark, but there should be no triangle of shadow on the space under the nose to the top lip. This gives a nice broad light to the face and shows off the eyes to an advantage.

More after this…

In the video these positions are shown off with a good measure of advice on how to set up the lights. A great video with a comic twist at the end. Enjoy!


Portrait Lighting for Photography and Video!
TheSlantedLens  External link - opens new tab/page·50 videos

In the near future I will be doing more on portraits. This post is a way of getting that going. If you have any questions or want me to tackle a specific portrait question let me know in the comments or via our Contact Us page.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog 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 photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.

Easy introduction to light modifiers – don’t miss out (pt 2)

Light modifiers manipulate light.

Photographic lights are shaped and controlled by the light modifier. With it you create the lighting you need. Use the right modifiers and you create the scene you want. Knowing which one to use is crucial. The resources set out here aim to help you understand what light modifiers are and what they can do.

In a previous post, Easy introduction to light modifiers (pt 1), we examined:

In this post we are looking at more of these useful tools for controlling light.

Grids

Much more open than the honeycomb are a variety of other types of grid. They are used in front of many different types of light source. The aim of a grid is to…

Beauty dish

The beauty dish is widely used in fashion industry. Photographers love it’s flattering light. Using this dish creates…

Barn doors

Originally used on film sets barn door light modifiers have a special function. They are normally fitted to…

New resource pages

Part one and part two (this post) have added a number of new resources about light modifiers to the photographic glossary. However, as a group of resources they can also be reached from the page of light resources…
Light and Lighting – Resource pages on Photokonnexion
Light modifier resources on Photokonnexion – A new page linked from the Light and lighting page.