Gobos: An Affordable and Expressive Solution for Creating Interesting Backgrounds

A white backdrop is an incredibly versatile piece of equipment, and a must have for any studio photographer. But if you want to mix things up a bit, and you don't want to fork out for another background — like one of these beautiful hand-painted ones — or you just want to have some creative fun, making a gobo is a fantastically adaptable alternative.

In this video from Adorama's Mark Wallace, we are shown how a cheap material such a piece of foil can be used as a gobo to cast a more textured light onto our backgrounds. In this example, Wallace is working in a studio in Colombia with model Alejandra Restrepo, who's also a talented fashion and portrait photographer.

So, what the hell is a gobo? Primarily used by stage lighting designers in theaters, a gobo is essentially a piece of material that is placed in front of a light source in order to control the shape of the light. They're more commonly intended to be intricate stencils, placed between the light source and focus lens of a theater lighting setup, designed to cast a detailed and crisp shadow in order add a sense of place — like stars for a night scene. So, while technically not a gobo as it's casting an amorphous, out of focus, shadow/light on the background — what's presented here might be considered to be a cookie — I think it's safe to just go with it and stop being a pernickety, "well, actually" little know-it-all of a writer about it.

Of course, Wallace is one of the most prolific educators on the platform, and the tips and new skills on show here are invaluable for those short of cash, or even shorter of ideas in the studio. Using gobos in the right way can add great interest to a scene, with endless possibilities for redesign and manipulation. It's also worth mentioning here that, as he advises, it's worth investing in black cinefoil in order to reduce reflections and have better control of the light.    

Do you use gobos in your work? If so, how? Leave a comment below to let us know.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Mike is a landscape and commercial photographer from, Co. Kerry, Ireland. In his photographic work, Mike tries to avoid conveying his sense of existential dread, while at the same time writing about his sense of existential dread. The last time he was in New York he was mugged, and he insists on telling that to every person he meets.

Log in or register to post comments