Modifying and controlling light can truly make you the master of your scene. Cinematographers and photographers have analyzed and shaped light to fit the tone, mood, and story of their scene for years. While we can do plenty with available light, we can further elevate our portraiture with creative off-camera flash. One of our favorite creative methods for adding light involves the use of GOBOs. In case you’re unfamiliar, GOBOs are “go-between-objects” placed between the subject and the light source. They are used heavily on Hollywood movie sets to create unique patterns or to simulate a source of light. Luckily, GOBO photography doesn’t require a Hollywood budget.

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How to Use a GOBO

In Lighting 201, we show you just how simple it is to use inexpensive lights & modifiers to transform any scene. GOBOs are just one way to create drama and interest in addition to the existing light. You can see how drastically GOBO photography can transform an image from this BTS post on the SLRL Instagram, and click through to see how we took this image from start to finish.

GOBO Photography, Example 1

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The GOBO photography technique we demonstrated shows the power of cutting out ambient light for dramatic effect and adding in our own key light to create something moodier. You can see the full tutorial  in Lighting 201 in SLR Lounge Premium.

How you choose to modify your light source will inevitably dictate the mood of the scene. Here are three tools you can use to do that:

1. Diffusion

A softer, more elegant look, used more for portraiture because the skin has a softer look. This can be accomplished with a multitude of options, including the following:

2. Grid

Control the spill of your light by using a grid to cut down the light output and narrow the focus. 

3. GOBO Photography

A go-between-object shields the light output depending on the object used. You can purchase various GOBOs online or make your own using styrofoam boards.

GOBO Photography, Example 2

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In the GOBO photography example above, we used a leaf to create interest and match the existing leaves in the scene. You can click through using the arrows to see how we decreased flash power to make the shadows more apparent. Similar to the previous example, we used our flash to guide the mood of the scene. To do this, we increased our flash power and cut down the available light.


I hope you found this information on GOBO photography helpful. To see more behind the scenes from this shoot, check out our Fine Art Boudoir Workshop in SLRL Premium.