If you really want to raise the bar on your images, start experimenting with shadow patterns and light through the use of gobos. Gobo stands for “go between optics” or “goes before optics.” It’s anything placed between the light and the subject in order to create visually interesting shadow patterns. Gobos give you the ability to form really cool lighting designs that take your images from solid to stunning.
Gobos can literally be anything: a piece of cardboard cut to look like a window, lace fabric to add delicate designs across the image, or a fancy metal gobo used inside an optical snoot.
Photographer Hudi Greenberger takes a few minutes to play around with light and shadow as he shows us how to shoot through glassware, liquid, and an optical snoot fitted with a gobo in order to up the ante on our images.
The Optical Snoot, One of Hudi’s Favorite Tools in the Studio
One of Hudi’s favorite tools in the studio “to get something dramatic quickly” is the optical snoot. The optical snoot is a device that mounts straight onto your light. It includes a lens at the front to focus and defocus the light as well as a lever to change the size of the light beam (much like controlling aperture on a lens).
While you can use the optical snoot on it’s own as a spotlight, the part that makes an optical snoot really fun is the ability to use little metal gobos that look like stencils with various designs cut out of them.
These circular metal gobos are placed in a slot within the optical snoot, between the focusing lens and the light source. The pattern on the gobos is the pattern you’ll see projected onto your subject. The gobos seen here are cut to look like a window frame, a window shade, and window blinds.
It does take a bit of trial and error to get the optical snoot to project the gobo in just the right place within the scene. After choosing the window frame gobo and fitting the optical snoot to the light, Hudi then turns out all the lights in the studio and uses just the modeling light to see how the gobo is casting light and shadow across the set.
“What we normally do is we just turn the lights off in the studio, get the modeling light on, and just sit there positioning the light until we find just the right spot.” Hudi explained.
After finding the sweet spot for the optical snoot, a second light with a softbox is set up on low power, for a bit of fill light. “This is at 1/64…so just giving us a touch of light” to fill in the shadows.
Here’s the cheeseboard shot with an optical snoot fitted with a “window pane” gobo.
And here’s an example of the scene with the window pane gobo more clearly focused via the lens on the front of the optical snoot with no fill light.
The creativity and options available with an optical snoot are endless. It’s no surprise that it’s one of Hudi’s favorite tools to use in the studio.
To up your food photography, as well as portrait photography, consider getting your hands on an optical snoot. It would be much more time consuming, difficult, or even impossible to achieve certain shadow patterns and lighting designs without one.
If you’re in a position where you can’t get an optical snoot or it doesn’t make sense to own one at this time, know that there are still plenty of ways to create your own gobos. It just needs to be something that sits between your subject and your light source. Even a window frame from a craft store can work as a gobo. Be creative and study the objects around you. You might just find your next perfect gobo hiding in plain sight.
Be Creative, Have Fun, Try Things Out
Hudi says it best: “We love when the technical influences the creative. I love that, that you can figure out from a technical standpoint how to make something creative and beautiful.”
So, in the midst of your crazy schedule, between all the photoshoots, appointments, and to-dos, it’s good and healthy to stop and have a little fun. Playfulness actually increases your productivity and creativity—two things you need on your side as a photographer. There’s evidence that taking the time to play (however that may look to you) hugely benefits your mental and physical health.
So be creative, have fun, play with some gobos, and see for yourself how shadow patterns and lighting designs can take your photographs to a level beyond what you’re doing now.
Photographer: Hudi Greenberger, http://hudigreenberger.com/
Video & Editing: https://www.samuelbouretproductions.com/
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