Photography Lighting Techniques

Create an Awesome 1 Light Fashion Shot Using Two DIY Gobos

Works Great With 2 V-flats

Here’s a one light fashion shot that I did that you can do with a few DIY gobos and a speedlight or a monolight. Plus, I’ll show you how to make this work in almost any sized space.

Did I just hear a bunch of people ask what the heck is a gobo??? A gobo is a light modifier. Back in the day, gobos were stencils or templates that were put inside those old-school Hollywood lights. They sat between the bulb and the fresnel lens. Fresnel lenses are glass lenses that can focus the shape and spread of the light, and the gobo would create different patterns or shapes of light. Gobos can also be used in front of the lights, which is what I did in this shot:

model in wrinkled dress with single beam of light over her face

This is a fashion shot that I did for a young model’s portfolio 10 years ago. This young lady is 5’9″ so she wasn’t going to be a fashion model in New York, but she is tall enough to do fashion in smaller markets like Philadelphia and Chicago. The original plan was to shoot her in this gown and do a kind of catalog-styled bridesmaid shot. We even had a little bouquet of flowers for her to use as a prop.

The reason for the catalog-styled shot is that outside of New York and LA there is very little true editorial fashion being shot and published, not to mention that I’m not a fashion photographer. If you pay close attention, fashion images generally – not always – but generally do not have the model looking at the camera. By comparison, MOST of my images do. I’m all about eyes.

When we took the gown out of the garment bag that it arrived in, we found that it had not been packed properly and was full of wrinkles – too many to justify taking the time to re-steam it or photoshop it.  Remember, good photographers are problem solvers. So I decided to do something that had a bit of an edgier feel and would mask the wrinkles in the dress.

The Shoot

I set up one monolight, which at the time was a 500ws Photogenic 1250DR. I used these Photogenics for many years in my old studio. They are solid lights. The model was going to pose in front of a neutral gray wall and standing on a neutral grey floor, so the only real color in the shot was going to be her and the dress. I decided to leave the flowers out of the shot.

To create the drama, I set-up two 39″ by 72″ black DIY Gobos. They were actually Diffusion panels made by Photoflex that I simply draped black material over. You could do this with foam core and a host of other options that I will talk about in a minute.

The gobos were placed only about 12in apart and about 10ft in front of my model and slightly to one side. I placed my light on a short stand so that it would be aiming up at the model to make the shadow appear taller than her.

Digital rendering of setup with light shining between two DIY Gobos and camera to right of model

Using the modeling light on the Photogenic strobe it was then simply a matter of moving the strobe back and forth, closer or further from the gobos until I had the width of light that I wanted in my final shot.

You can see below, the closer the light gets to my DIY gobos, the wider the band on the wall. The further it is from the gobo, the band of light hitting the wall gets much thinner.

As light moves closer to gobos light on wall behind model expands and vice versa

I had my model remove her very pretty high heels, positioned her in the middle of the light had her lean forward and lift the dress which caused it to bunch up and mask how bad the wrinkles were. Then I gave her a spot to look at and told her to imagine that she was walking through a dark old house and just heard a noise, just like you see in a horror film. Then I simply gave her a three count, 1,2,3 and instructed her on three to inhale rapidly.  That’s when I fired my shot. Not including the test shots for exposure, I shot about 25 frames to get the expression just the way I wanted it and also to try some simple variations with the hands and posture.

This was made with a 50mm f/1.8 lens set at f/7.1. The shutter speed was 1/200th of a second and the ISO was 100.

The final image required very little post production beyond the usual color, contrast, sharpening, and, of course, removing of blemishes and a few nicks in the gray floor.

Other ways to use DIY gobos

I want to show you a few options with this shot.  I mentioned that my gobos were actually DIY gobos made out of diffusers covered with black material. You could make your own frames with 1×1 or 2×2 wood or even PVC piping and then attach black material or diffusion material depending on the shot you are doing. You can also purchase foam core in large 4′ x 8′ sheets – the same way that people make v-flats for lighting in larger studios. The foam core is also available in black.

I wanted to show you here that you could actually use a couple of the Walmart reflectors (that I talk about in this video) as DIY gobos.  Here is the same end result, done in a studio space that’s only 12ft wide by 15ft long and an 8ft ceiling.

Digital rendering of smaller studio setup with two Walmart reflectors as DIY gobos

I have placed a speedlight very low to the ground, two Walmart reflectors very close together and I moved the camera a little closer. Now, you have essentially the same shot.

If you have a second speedlight available and a blue gel, you can get this effect by placing that second speedlight in front of the gobos and aimed directly at your subject.

Digital rendering of blue gel speedlight in front of DIY gobos

The same effect will work with monolights and in a bigger space.  Remember, monolights tend to be more powerful than speedlights. Bigger spaces need more light, so when in bigger spaces, use a monolight. Smaller spaces need smaller size lights, so when in smaller spaces, use a speedlight.

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

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Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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