In-camera special effects with gobo projection
I still have this old-school preference for effects done in-camera and effects achieved with interesting lighting, over effects achieved nearly entirely through digital manipulation. Absolutely no disrespect to digital artists who create astonishing work. However, my jaw drops when I look at the sheer scale of the work of a photographer like Gregory Crewdson. Naturally then, my hero is Gregory Heisler, who has a true genius for creating diverse work through amazing lighting. So that would be my inclination – how much can I achieve in-camera to create an image that grabs attention. Of course, having a striking looking model helps a lot.
Still exploring the possibilities of projection effects with the Light Blaster (affiliate), a speedlight based projector, I met up with Viktoria in my studio. The Light Blaster has several effects kits, but I still prefer the stronger and starker outlines of the gobo kit over the various gel kits. With previous experiments in the studio, I used the Light Blaster to project patterns on the background, or into smoke. Working with an idea I saw from my friend Josh Lynn, I projected the pattern onto the wall in the studio, and had Viktoria in the mix there somewhere.
Of course, it took quite a few experiments in positioning both the gobo pattern and Viktoria before we had a few sequences that worked really well.
She’s an exceptional dancer and fluidly changed into unusual poses. This image below is my favorite, for the energy and visual momentum.
Photo gear used for this photo session
As described above, the light on the background – the forest scene, was done with the Light-Blaster (affiliate), and one of the gobos that comes as a kit (affiliate). I defocused the lens a bit to have a less clearly defined edge to the silhouettes of the trees.
The camera settings were determined by testing, with the flash set to 1/2 manual output.
1/200 @ f/5.6 @ 400 ISO
You can order the Light Blaster kit from these affiliate links
- Light Blaster – (B&H / Amazon)
- Nikon-EOS Adapter – (B&H / Amazon)
- Creative Kit – Gobo kit – (B&H / Amazon)
- Creative Kit – Effects – (B&H / Amazon)
- Creative Kit – Backdrops – (B&H /Amazon)
- Creative Kit – Wings – (B&H / Amazon)
- Image projection effects in the studio (model: Olena)
- Dramatic lighting effects for portrait photography (model: Jessica Joy)
- Creative backgrounds with the Light Blaster (model: Priscilla)
- Viktoria, model – Facebook | Model Mayhem page
- Light Blaster – official website.
7 Comments, Add Your Own
Just last week, my wife and I were discussing birthday presents and she was not sure what to buy me. I told her that Light Blaster we talked about last summer is still something I am interested in so this might end up in my bag. The last shot here is my favorite because the elements just come together: nude trees and nude model with a great pose.
I plan on purchasing the slide with the wings as well and already have a few ideas written down.
Good stuff as always!
I’ve always used Kodak Slide Projectors ( for decades now ) for this kind of thing… we older guys that grew up with film had little choice but to accomplish these ‘special-effects’ in camera.
3Neil vN says
I’ve tried the gels and I’ve tried slides .. but the blacks are never deep enough. There’s that kind of washed-out tone to it that I haven’t been able to successfully eliminate. And that is what I like about the gobos … that darker areas are more clearly defined.
4Mike Menegus says
Pretty interesting effect. Couldn’t this also be accomplished using a “template” in front of my Alien Bee 800? I will be trying out
4.1Stan Rogers says
Mike, what you’re talking about is referred to in the industry as a “cookie” or “cucoloris”, and unless you have the room to use a BIG cookie with a head far enough away to cast hard shadows (that takes about 20 feet/6m between the head and the cookie with a 7-inch reflector), the best you can hope for is a sort of a hint at atmosphere. That’s generally what the cookie is intended to do; to suggest windows, trees, nearby water, etc., without really drawing attention to itself. Without the distance available to make the shadows hard (if you try to use a grid instead of distance), you’ll wind up with multiple hard edges, which looks almost as pleasing as the bokeh from a mirror (catadioptric) lens if the effect isn’t well-considered in the shot. (Sometimes the “wrong” thing is exactly what a picture needs to make it work. It depends on the look and mood you’re trying to create. Multiple small gels of different colours over a grid can get very interesting in a late-’60s psychedelic, spacey sort of way.)
For something more clearly defined, you really need an optical spot. You can find them used or as Asian knock-offs in the Balcar mount (the same one that Paul C. Buff uses), but they’ll run close to the same price as an AlienBees unit. I have to warn you, though, that the Balcar reflector mount isn’t really up to the task for something as heavy as a spot (it depends on springs and has no positive lock) so you’d need to use a grip rail to support both the spot and the flash head.
5Neil vN says
Mike, you might get a pattern to show if you gridded your light. But it will most likely be much softer and less defined, because with the Light Blaster, you focus the pattern with a lens that you attach to the front.
Exactly right. This place called Tallyns sold this “Turbo F-16” ( that s close to the name) attachment for studio flashes. It basically just used metal plates in a holder in front of the flash. It may have used a fresnel too….I can’t recall but the patterns while good were never as well defined as what you show here.