Control Flare from Sun, Rim Lights with a Shoot-Thru Gobo

Just a quickie today on the whys and whens of using a single, small shoot-thru shade to completely control contrast-killing glare when shooting into backlight.

Most of the time, interesting light involves (at least in part) light that is coming from the back of the frame.

Whether you are shooting into the sun or working with rim lights it is a good idea to flag the backlight to control glare. But rather than putting a big flag on a stand (on each side) near the subject, you can get even better control shooting through a hole in an opaque material.

Above is a snapshot of what I use. It's made out of black Coroplast that was leftover from making DIY grids. A-clamp it to a stand and you are good to go.

(The snapshot above is for illustrative purposes. The light is behind me here, just to get detail on the shade. These shades are normally used for shooting into the light.)

The aspect ratio of the hole is pretty important if you want all around protection. This one is for use with my Nikons, so it is ~2:3.

I'll generally use it when I am locked down on a tripod and shooting near directly into the light (or blasting my subject with just-out-of-frame rim light). By varying the distance between the shade and the camera, I can cover any lens in my bag.

These work better than your lens shade because they can be positioned to exactly cover your optical frame. Most lens shades are compromises of one form or another — especially for zooms.

They are dirt cheap, work great and allow you to blast backlight (or the sun) from anywhere — including just out of the frame — and keep all of your contrast.


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Blogger JS said...

The best kind of brilliance: simple and cheap.

April 19, 2012 9:07 AM  
Blogger Mark S said...

Great tip. It would be great if you could add a few before/after type of shots to demonstrate the go-bo in use. Especially to highlight when it's most useful and when it's less effective. Sorry, I know you said it was a quickie post.

April 19, 2012 10:49 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@ Mark -

I'll refer/link to it in the future when I use it. That's how I usually link tools/tips with practical use posts, to strengthen the educational value of the site.

April 19, 2012 10:54 AM  
Blogger Kevin Camp Photography said...

I used my hand before to control the amount of light beaming in. Just gently shading the front element of the lens from the sun to get just a little contrast back into the image. I will be including one of these in my kit now. Thanks!

April 19, 2012 11:39 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

This is a great tip - and a good use of leftover corroplast...

April 19, 2012 11:42 AM  
Blogger HPocius said...

Add a little flocking paper to the back (camera side) and it's even better

April 19, 2012 12:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great tip for controlling spill - you could also use one with a white side facing the subject as a reflector if you need a little on-axis fill and don't have a ring light, or in my case only have two speed lights. You could use one speed light as key, one as rim and use the reflector to bounce light off the rim to provide the fill.

April 19, 2012 12:19 PM  
Blogger Kalle said...

Great idea! Could you tell us what are the measurements of tthis gobo?

April 19, 2012 1:25 PM  
Blogger As Seen by Janine said...

Wow, thanks for such a simple and perfect solution! I am thrilled... :-) Janine

April 19, 2012 2:14 PM  
Blogger Ian Pack said...

Just like the mask in a cinematographers matte box but less expensive and more portable.

April 19, 2012 3:15 PM  
Blogger skeptic5 said...

I do the same thing with a bellows shade (Lindahl Specialties) with an appropriate aspect ratio front mask - more money but a smaller package to carry around, and it keeps ANY light from hitting the front lens element unless it comes from the subject. Probably withstands breezes a bit better, too.

April 19, 2012 5:01 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

hey Dave, sorry for the off topic question but thought this would be the best way to get an answer, i saw an article in a mag about lighting and it stated that you should never point a lightsource directly at the subject, and the light should be pointed into the space in front of the subject, however i've gotten really good results pointing directly at the subject and find in daylight this is the only way to get a usable amount of light from a speedlite, i'd like to hear your take on this and maybe an example of when this technique would apply, thanks

April 19, 2012 5:23 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


FWIW, any artistically oriented photo advice that starts with "You should never" can generally be ignored.

April 19, 2012 7:31 PM  
Blogger sikdave said...


April 19, 2012 9:56 PM  
Blogger Allez! said...

Hi - what's the difference between this and shading the front element of the lens? (or am I missing something?)

April 20, 2012 3:03 AM  
Blogger Magno said...

What about attaching this to camera so we don't need to be stuck with 2 tripods?

Maybe with something similar to an Boom Arm (to change distances), or something like that.

April 20, 2012 3:36 AM  
Blogger Joel said...

Very interesting...looking forward to seeing some before/after shots as previously mentioned.

April 20, 2012 2:38 PM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

I use this on occasion but I have been looking for the compendium lens shades that were popular with MF and Hasselblad in particular. You could extend the bellows to precisely position the mask to perfectly shade, but not vignette, the image.

April 20, 2012 6:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Bellows or compendiums aren't as effective as flags that block the light closer to the subject. The closer the blocker is to the camera, the more difficulty it has in completely shading the lens from the unwanted light.

April 20, 2012 11:05 PM  
Blogger Mark Davidson said...

True, but they solve the problem of portability and support.

April 21, 2012 2:10 PM  
Blogger Gareth Dix said...

Just had that moment of... "why have I not thought about doing that before?"

You should be an engineer or something heh... but seriously this is going to save me some serious space

April 24, 2012 12:19 PM  
Blogger Kiliii said...

David, for those with a bigger budget I recommend using the Lee Lens Bellows/Hood. It gives you all the advantages of the gobo but moves with you and is infinitely adjustable. The Lee doesn't even require rails. Works as well on my medium format as my 35.

April 24, 2012 4:48 PM  
Blogger gafphoto said...

Thanks David, but where were you at with this a couple weeks ago when I had a family group full of kids from 5 mos. to 9 years. When I scouted the location and time I was good. Then the whole add a minute of daylight a day got me and we had to keep 17 people happy for an extra 20 minutes while I waited for the sun to drop behind the house.

April 26, 2012 10:59 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

What milimeter size would you recommend? I went on Corrugated Plastics site and their sheets come in 2mm, 4mm, 6mm, & 10mm.

April 30, 2012 11:06 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

What size do you recommend? I went on Corrugated Plastic website and their sheets come in 2mm, 4mm, 6mm, & 10mm.
Thanks, always enjoy your blog.

April 30, 2012 11:08 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

What size mm do you recommed? On Corrugated Plastic site they have 2mm, 4mm, 6mm, & 10mm size sheets.

April 30, 2012 11:11 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Any thickness sufficient to shade the sun. In other words, pretty much any thickness. But no need for corrugated plastic. Any thing stiff and opaque will work. (See today's post.)

April 30, 2012 2:13 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

David, thank you.

April 30, 2012 8:59 PM  
Blogger Lori Downs Photography said...

I don't understand how you use it...Please explain.. Do you put the end of the lens through there? But if you do are you really blocking the sun from glaring back onto the lens. Or how far back do you get?......enough to clear the frame out of the picture?

May 03, 2012 2:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sometimes things can be so easy... thanks a lot for sharing this tip. I also would like to know about the dimensions (approximately).

May 07, 2012 9:12 AM  
Blogger Dassaro Imaging said...

I really appreciate this tip. I finally got around to making one of these and now carry it on most shoots, especially if I am forced to shoot in harsh sun.

Joe Dassaro

May 11, 2012 2:33 PM  
Blogger Geoju said...

Just wondering why you never got around to posting some before/afters on this, it would be interesting to see.

August 31, 2013 4:04 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

I have used it and written about it a few times, actually. Here's one:

August 31, 2013 5:48 AM  

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