What Exactly Is A Gobo?


A Gobo can instantly take your photo to the next level

Traditionally, a gobo is a term used in lighting that refers to anything that goes in between the light and your subject. This can be pretty much anything from a tree branch to a piece of posterboard with some patterns cut out of it and it’s entire intention is to simply cut off and/or reveal light to make your image more interesting.

The small hit of green was literally just 3 leaves held about an inch from a Canon 50mm f/1.4 (Pictured: Roosh Williams)

However, more and more people (including me obviously) are using GOBOs in between the lens and subject and not just the lighting. I personally love to use them in my work because it adds a certain level of depth to the image that otherwise would not be attainable in some circumstances. The easiest GOBO you could use is literally a handful of grass or a tree branch with some leaves pulled off.

I have used this technique many times to spice up an otherwise completely boring photo and have seen different results almost every single time depending on what my intention was with the GOBO itself. Some times you want to draw focus to a specific part of an image, sometimes you just want some cool bokeh effects, the possibilities are endless.

The Ziploc bag reflected just enough light to give me some great bokeh around and over the subject’s face (Picture: T2 the Ghetto Hippie)

On a recent shoot with T2, I didn’t happen to have any gels to color my light so I simply scribbled all over a Ziploc bag with some Prismacolor markers, ripped a hole in the bottom, and fastened it to my lens with a hair tie. This worked great because the maximum aperture of the lens I was using was f/1.8 so the slight addition of color and crazy bokeh from shooting with the lens wide open led to some really great, retro lighting effects that gave me the EXACT look that I was going for.


This effect is honestly too easy NOT to do and the only requirement is that you have a fairly fast lens, preferably f/2.8 or larger, something to put in front of the lens that isn’t going to take up the entire frame, and a way to hold it.


Try the technique out for yourself and send me some of your shots, I’d love to see them!

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