What’s a Lighting “Gobo” & How to Make One in 5 Simple Steps

27 Nov

How to light an interview (specifically background lighting)

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First of all, for those who don’t know… what the hell’s a Gobo?! Gobo stands for ‘Go-Between’. It’s basically a stencil or cut out that you position ‘between’ a lamp and the area you want to light. The resulting shadows create an artistic effect, simple.

If you’re shooting an interview at an interior location, say a room for example, the background can sometimes look really boring. I’m sure you’ll agree a plain white wall looks pretty unexciting (snore).

How do you get round this one? Easy! You need a Gobo!

You’ll need 3 lamps in total to light the interview (full post on that one to come!), and we’ll be using one of those to create the nice background.

So here’s how to produce a great background lighting effect…

Step 1 – Make the Room Dark

For this to work it’s essential to control the Available Light . This is general light in the room either from existing overhead lighting or daylight coming in through windows.

So make sure you can turn off all the room lighting and close window blinds to block out the daylight. (Err one note… don’t plunge the room into darkness just yet though otherwise you’ll trip over in the gloom, bump into one of your crew and end up in a big heap on the floor, with bloody noses all round! Even worse the ensuing clatter could inadvertently wake up your dear soundman, peacefully snoozing away in the corner, bless him… nothing new there then!)

Anyway the point is eventually you’ll need to blackout the room.

My rather sad effort at Microsoft Paint… (click for larger view)

Step 2 – Light Your Interviewee

Get someone to sit in where you intend to film the person you are interviewing. This can either be the actual interviewee (preferable) or wheel in the sleeping soundman (Not so preferable but I suppose they do have their uses!). Now light the person being interviewed known in the trade, rather unflatteringly, as The Subject – although thinking about it the term does sound quite regal doesn’t it?

Anyway position the Key Light and ¾ Backlight as in this diagram (click to enlarge).

Ok before you say anything, sorry about the sketch I guess I just can’t be good at everything!

Incidentally lighting for interviews, 3 Point Lighting and all that stuff is covered in another blog, so check that out for more info, or just for now take my word for it and position the lights as in my most wonderful of diagrams.

Step 3 – Blackout the Room

Leave the interview lights on but turn off of all the other room lights and/or black out windows.

Make sure no light is spilling on the background wall from the interview lights. It’s important because you want the wall to be as dark as possible to get the best effect with the gobo… speaking of which!…

Step 4 – Create a Gobo

Grab a pencil and poke away!…

Take a piece of Black Wrap (special black foil for lighting) making sure it’s large enough to cover the entire front of the lamp.

Poke holes through the Black Wrap with a pencil to produce something like this. Now you’ve made the Gobo! Tadaa!

Here’s a link where you can buy Black Wrap…and before you say anything, no I’m not on commission selling Lee Filters or some weird online affiliate marketer!

*Added Tip*

If you don’t have any Black Wrap but there’s a potted palm tree or plant in the room, use this to project the light through the leaves. Remember you don’t want the plant in shot you just want the leaves to create attractive shadows on the background. Nice.

If you’re too cheap to buy Black Wrap, you could poke some holes in Tin Foil (Aluminium or Alumin-UM for our American friends), and clamp it to a stand in front of your light. I wouldn’t advise using it like Black Wrap (i.e. wrapping it over the light), as it’s not designed for this and it could all end in a flaming mess! (see what I did there?!). It will also have the added disadvantage of reflecting the light all over the room… but hey, that’s what you get for being cheap! Obviously it goes without saying… DO NOT USE cardboard, paper, plastic or any other flammable/meltable material.

This effect works better using a lamp with a Fresnel Lens because you can focus the light quite accurately, but it can be used with lamps without lenses like Red Heads as well.

Step 5 – Focus the Light through the Gobo onto the background.

Position your Gobo on the Lamp or use another lighting stand to hold it in front of the lamp (either way works). Now focus the light through the Gobo until you create a dappled shadowy pattern on the background. Bingo!

Simple, but effective!

There you go! Doing this will turn a boring background into a thing of beauty!

You can also use a Coloured Gel or filter on the lamp as well to create an even better effect.

Use whatever colour you like. I use Rosco E-Colour #015: Deep Straw Filter as it warms up the Colour Temperature and looks great.

Anyway, it’s simple but very affective. Hope it helps, now go out and have fun!

I actually run a Lighting/Cinematography course so click the link or get in touch, if you’re interested in coming and learning in person! Please be sure to share it with your mates (it’s free!!) – I want to try and get this info to the people who want it! Oh and please show your support by following us on facebook and twitter (it’s free!!), and if you’re interested in receiving updates and future e-books then sign up in the email form to the right.

Free Spirit Film & TV

Film, TV & Online Video Production.

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10 Responses to “What’s a Lighting “Gobo” & How to Make One in 5 Simple Steps”

  1. Eliza April 5, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    I needed to thank you for this wonderful read!!
    I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. I have got you book marked to look at
    new stuff you post

    • freespiritfilm January 20, 2014 at 1:15 am #

      Wow, thank you Eliza, that means so much! So so so glad you’re enjoying it 🙂 x


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