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Gobos, Cutters and flags

As one move up in his or her photography career and advance in one’s skills on lighting subjects, it becomes clear that not everything needs to be lit evenly. In fact the most attractive photographs are the ones with some amount of shade in them, in some cases, certain areas of the picture may not be lit at all. It is the balance between the lit area and the shadow regions that makes for an interesting photo. Remember the human eye has a tendency to automatically go to the point with more brightness. So your aim should be to place your highlights on those areas that are important in your composition.

flags photography lighting
Gobo or Flag or Cutter – Photographic Light Modifier

From a scene, if you subtract a couple of stops of light from particular areas of your subject, it will give the appearance of lightening the highlight areas by an equal amount. Thus you could use light to emphasize the important elements and deemphasizing the less important ones.

Now that we have decided to keep some areas dark and the others lit; we need certain tools to achieve this objective.

Cutters, Flags or Gobos

Cutters are the opposite of reflectors. In photographic terms “flag” describes any opaque object that is used to block light. It is also called a gobo, which stands for “go-between,” something that goes between the light source and the subject being lit. Flags essentially subtract light from the subject being photographed.

The words ‘cutter’ and ‘flag’ tend to be used interchangeably. Any opaque material could be used as a cutter, however, to be true to the definition, a cutter should really be a large black colored flat. But flags could be of any size.

gobo photography lighting
Gobo or Flag or Cutter – Photographic Light Modifier

There are instances when the function of a cutter is to prevent reflections, rather than cast a shadow. In such instances it is referred to as ‘black bounce’. Black bounces are used to emphasize the outline of a subject that is photographed against a brightly lit white background. This is achieved by placing them close on either side of the subject, just out of the frame. So, whether a black-painted polyboard gets called a cutter or a black bounce depends on the function it serves at the time.

When working with flags, scrims, and cookies, remember that when these modifiers are placed nearer to the subject (away from the light source); the shadows they cast will be more distinct giving it the feel of harsh light. And when the modifiers are placed nearer the light source (away from the subject) then the shadows it cast will be much softer.

In the next article we will discuss about Light Modifiers Barn Doors

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