Use a Gobo to Shape Light for Portraits: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace
Use a Gobo to Shape Light for Portraits: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Hi everybody welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography, right here on Adorama TV. In today’s episode we’re gonna do something really cool with aluminum foil. This stuff right here. We’re going to use this to create a really cool background. But before we do that I want to first introduce you to Ale. She is a phenomenal model here in Medellin, Colombia and what we’re going to do is we’re going to create a very beautiful portrait of Ale. So to start we’re gonna begin by building our interesting background using aluminum foil. So let’s do that right now. I want to begin this lighting setup by creating the background. Now normally I would be using something called black cinefoil, but I just didn’t have any in my camera bag. That’s no problem because I’m going to use this. This is normal aluminum foil. So the way this works is we’re going to use this aluminum foil to create what’s called a gobo. So I’ve got my handy dandy knife. We’re gonna use this knife to punch some holes in this aluminum foil So you can do whatever pattern you want. Please don’t cut yourself. You want to create some holes in the aluminum foil, little curves and stuff, something that’s not quite as big as that. I’ve already pre-cut some aluminum foil, and so what I’m gonna do here is, I’m going to bring this guy. So I’ve taken some aluminum foil, and I’ve cut some very very small slices in this and then throwing this to Sam, the assistant off camera. So what I’m going to do here is… I’m going to take this and use this as a gobo. What the gobo does is it allows us to shoot light through that and then it creates a shape on a background. Now this is something that’s used in theater a lot. You might want to throw a fake window or something on the background, but you can use it in photography too. The point with this is you’re gonna have to play and experiment because to get something that looks good using this technique… can sometimes take a long time. Now what we’re gonna do is… we’re going to take this gobo, this aluminum foil. I just created a little arm using a Tether Tools Rock-Solid Clamp on a light stand. I’m gonna put that in front of a light. Now this is not just any light, it has something attached to it. It is a very very small grid… this is a 5 degree grid. This only works when you have a grid like this. If you try to do this with just a normal head like that, it’s just not gonna work. You’re just gonna get light going everywhere. So you need to put a grid in your light. Once you have that grid in there that’s going to restrict the light, but it’s also going to create some really crazy patterns, as it goes through your gobo, your sliced up aluminum foil. What we’re going to do though to show you how this works is, we’re going to take this to a wide-angle shot, turn off all the lights in the studio, turn this modeling light on and then I’m going to move this forward and back in front of this light, and that’s going to focus this on our white background, and you’ll see for yourself what this does. So let’s do that right now. Now that the studio lights are turned off, I’m going to be a weatherman for just a second and show you what’s happening in the different regions behind me. Over here this is what’s being projected by our homemade gobo, and we can change how this looks by changing the distance between our gobo, which is right here and our light. So we can make those farther or closer together to focus what’s happening here. You can also see that right in this region over here, we have a tonne of light. That is the light that’s being reflected off this aluminum foil… which is why black cinefoil is better. We wouldn’t have this problem over here. So now let me go back here, and move this gobo around a little bit, and you can see that when I move it farther away, and closer to the light, we get different patterns on our wall, and also by slicing different patterns on our aluminum foil or cinefoil, we can change what’s happening over in our gobo region. Now our gobo is set up and we’ve widened out our camera angle because we need to show you the entire studio cause it’s time to bring in our key light and start working with our model. This is Ale, she’s not just a model but she’s also a photographer here in Medellin and so that’s going to be fantastic because she can help me meter, that’s really cool. So we’re ready to add a key light and so Ale if you will hop back about, I don’t know, a couple feet in front of the white background. What I’m gonna do here is first I’m going to just set this up like I normally would on a normal one light setup. So from the camera I’m going to have this at about a 45 degree angle, that usually gives us some pretty good light. So let’s go ahead and meter that. Just hold that up and I will hit that. That’s it. 6-3. Okay perfect. So let me just take a quick shot. Look right at me, perfect. Uh, I mean it’s okay but it’s, it’s really boring. So this is a very boring shot because we just totally obliterated everything that we did with our gobo that took us so long and so the background is just reverted to a light gray background and so it’s just simple it’s not what we want at all. So we’re gonna change things up. This key light has some magic to it. So this is a two-foot octabox, a Profoto two-foot octabox, but what I’ve done as you can see here I’ve added a grid to the front of this. That’s controlling how that light falls because what we want to do is we want to have a really nice soft light, but we don’t want it bouncing everywhere, we don’t want to get into that background because we want our cool little gobo to show up and so what we’re gonna do here is I’m gonna put this at about a 90 degree angle from the camera and so that’s going to make sure that the light only goes this way, it doesn’t go to the background. So Ale you’re gonna have to step forward just a bit. Now let’s meter this.This time we’re going to meter to the light. So let’s go ahead and point that to the light. I’ll flash that. That is at f/8, perfect. So look straight at me. I will do this and okay this has some problems. So now we have no light from the key light on the background so we still have that pattern that the gobo created, except now you look like an old black-and-white horror film.We don’t want that. So what we’re gonna do is we’re just gonna change how our model is standing. So instead of straight on we’ll have her turn into the light. So go ahead and turn into the light and I might fudge a little bit over this way as well. So I’m gonna focus on her. Take a shot. That is so much better, that is really beautiful, but we still have one more problem to solve, so let’s get to that next. Well now that we have our key light all set up, we’ve got our cool gobo light. Let me show you a shot and just explain why we have a problem with the setup. So Ale is gonna be right where she needs to be. I will take a quick shot here, and that looks pretty cool but if we look closely on this side, on Ali’s hair on this side of her face… it’s just darkness, and I don’t want that. What I really want is… I want it to look angelic. We need to even things out. I don’t want to get into a complicated lighting setup, by adding a second light, the easiest thing to do is just bounce the light, adding a reflector. So Samuel is gonna come in, he’s going to help us out here. He owns this studio, he’s lending it to us. So Sam if you can just put that about right there. We’re gonna try to have this light bounce from here, off this board, onto the back of Ale’s hair. So let me just take a quick shot here, and see how it looks. Oh that’s looking pretty good, but I think we need to bring this out just a little bit more, something like that. Let me take one more shot and ah yeah, if we take a look at the before and after shots, you can clearly see that we’re adding a lot of light to this side of Ale’s hair, and that is really gonna add punch to this photo. Let’s begin over here, we can take a look and see that this gobo is going to be throwing light on the background… as we move around our lighting setup, we have our reflector, and it is set in position with our camera here. So it is reflecting the light from our key- light right here, right back into the opposite side of Ale’s hair, which is perfect. Now we can check the key-light and you can see that it’s actually feathered… just a bit. So when we go up above that you can see it’s not exactly hitting her straight on. We’re just getting a side of that light, it’s just a little bit of a feather and that really softens that light. Let’s take a closer look at our key-light. The thing that we really want to make sure doesn’t happen is for light to spill on our white background, because that’s gonna wash out that cool effect that we got with our little gobo tinfoil. So what we’re gonna do here is, our key- light is almost exactly parallel to the background instead of having it at a 45 degree angle, which would illuminate Ale and look great, but would also illuminate the background. So I’ve turned it and so that it is facing this way, and so if we come over here and go above our little reflector here, you can sort of see how this works. This light is bouncing directly into our reflector. That’s making sure the light bounces around here on to the other side of Ale’s hair and it really illuminates that, makes it look nice and soft, but to make sure Ale’s face is illuminated, the trick is instead of her standing toward the camera, she has turned her body… she is looking into this light, that illuminates the majority of her face, giving us what is called broad lighting and it looks really amazing… without messing up our effect on the background. Now that we have everything set up we can start with the fun, and actually start shooting, so let’s do that right now. There you have it, you can use some aluminum foil… or even better some black cinefoil, to get some very interesting effects in your studio. Try it out and let us know how it works in the comments of this video. Also check out the description of this video because I’ve included links to Ale’s Instagram, so you can see more of her work. Also follow me on Instagram. I’m constantly posting some behind the scenes videos in my stories and shots that didn’t make it into the video, so do that. Also subscribe to Adorama TV because it’s absolutely free… and if you click on the bell you’ll get notifications of when we post new content, which is almost every single day. Thanks again for joining me and I will see you again next time.

13 thoughts on “Use a Gobo to Shape Light for Portraits: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. StormanCast says:

    Great tips! getting some foil

  2. rhapsodist says:

    that background is kind of lame for all this effort

  3. King Garcia says:

    isnt this a cucoloris or cookie?

  4. Mr Dev says:

    I made a gobo out of black paper, after I cut the holes I used gels to colour the holes and it actually worked pretty good

  5. Patty Mattes says:

    This is great!!! Thank you!!! I would love to see you get the venetian blind effect with a simple set up.

  6. Shawn F says:

    What an awesome idea and simplistic too. Great video Marc.

  7. Kennyk77 says:

    Beautiful model.

  8. hawg427 says:

    Who besides me didn't catch Aly's instagram site ref?

  9. Divi Photos says:


  10. Stevenevo Sando says:

    I can’t find the model ??

  11. Stevenevo Sando says:

    I need help mark ? Can you correct her Instagram page please ? Model is no where’ to be found .

  12. Estee White Photography says:

    I am not sure if he says Gobo or "GoPro" πŸ˜‰

  13. joluperna says:

    Excellent video! Thanks! πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

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