How To Use A “Gobo”

by William Lulow

Funny name for a lighting tool, but a “gobo” is photographic nomenclature for an object, usually a black card, that “goes between” a light source and an object. It is usually used to keep light from spilling over to where it is not wanted or needed. For instance, if you have an Edge Light set up and it is aimed at the subject, you obviously do not want that light spilling over onto the background. So, the best way to do this is to set up a black card “gobo” on one side of the light which will prevent it from hitting the background.

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Here is a diagram of how a gobo should be used. If you look at the light to the right of the subject you can see two black cards positioned to keep that light from spilling over onto the background and the lens.

Gobos can be used almost anywhere when you want to keep light from spilling over onto something. Gobos should be black so as not to reflect any light. They can be clamped to a light stand or set up in any position desired. Sometimes you can use a series of gobos to help aim light more exactly.

Gobos can be simple black boards or expensive “flags” (a movie industry term). Flags are made to be mounted on stands and usually have a handle for that purpose.  Below is an example:

Matthews Flag (Gobo)

These are items that should be a part of every photographer’s studio lighting accessories.