Lighting Through a Mirror with Gobo FX

Define Gobo: An object placed inside or in front of a light source to control the shape of the emitted light and its shadow.

Even in her own confinement, the Empath Fairy's sadness is for her little feathered friends, not for herself.

The Caged Bird


This week's challenge was to create a visual interpretation of "trapped". Inspired by what I learned in a video called Amazing Video Lighting Hack Using Mirrors by Caleb Pike, I  chose to use this opportunity to experiment with lighting the subject with  a strobe light bounced off a mirror and filtered through a variety of props to generate depth, texture and to add a story-telling element to the light. 

I recorded a timelapse behind the scenes of the shoot. I shot this during daylight but I needed darkness, so you'll see I blocked off most of the natural light with  a black fabric backdrop. In the second half of this video you can get a sense of what a self portrait artist looks like when trying to evoke tearful emotion for the camera.

Behind the Scenes Timelapse Video from the Shoot

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Due to the fact I have a full length mirror on wheels in my home studio, this is the reflective device I chose to use to reflect the light back into my scene. I positioned the mirror behind both the camera and the props. By switching on the modeling light function on my strobe I was able to view the effect of the light realtime by moving  the mirror around and tweaking its angle  in order to get the shadow of the birdcage falling on the backdrop in the position and at the size that worked best for my intended composition. 

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My first experiments showed that the light bouncing off the mirror was quite harsh. I was able to soften it by draping some tulle and faux foliage over the surface of the glass. This served to soften and add texture to the reflected light. 


I normally favor lighting with large soft light sources but chose to go with a snoot and a small spot of light for this set up in order to support the storytelling. To reiterate the feeling of entrapment I wanted it to feel like the light was far off, giving a sense that the subjects were deep in darkness. The tiny catchlight in the eye supports the impression that the character is a long distance away from any light, as if at the end of a long tunnel or deep in a cave.    

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As already mentioned, the strobe was pointed at the mirror. After reaching it, the light then bounces towards  the subject (the backdrop and the 'fairy'). Anywhere there is a gap in the foliage or  between the bars of the  birdcage the light continues  to reach and light the subject. Anywhere the bounced light meets a prop or the camera the light is blocked from reaching the subject causing a shadow to be cast  instead. Unfortunately this held true for  the boom arm, the tripod and camera as well - they didn't look so great when they turned up in the shadows.  The solution was to disguise them by draping them in faux foliage. It did the trick.

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This image shows the camera/mirror from the point of view of the subject (fairy). 

The vision was for light to be seen in the subject 's eyes so I positioned my head and the foliage to provide a gap in the leaves where the light would dapple through and reach that area of my face. I knew that as long as I could see the end of the snoot in the mirror,  the light would create a catchlight in my eyes. 

Luckily it's hayfever season which makes my eyes watery by default and therefore easier to muster a tear on command. Looking straight into a firing strobe for a few takes and thinking of the people I've loved and lost  also helps to generate a welling of tears in my eyes. 

The second catchlight, at the bottom of eyeball, manifested itself when there was enough of a tear forming to capture the light. That secondary catchlight conveys the sense of tearfulness and sorrow to the viewer who would not have been able to discern a teardrop without that extra reflection. 

SOOC Before Edit versus After Being Edited

  • The Caged Bird SOOC
  • The Caged Bird


I did some work on editing colors and values in both Lightroom and Photoshop. I switched to Photoshop for easier mask control but did not do any retouching. I chose to implement a blue/gold color story. These complementary colors not only work together to create visual  harmony, they also help to convey meaning. Cool blue colors  on the background help suggest a cold, unwelcoming environment, whilst the golden hues employed on the main subject suggests life and warmth. 

Note: because I was shooting in a darkened environment and reviewing the images on the fly using a digital device, the images no doubt seemed brighter than they actually were. Consequently I had to lift the exposure quite a bit in post processing. This happens to me a lot when I shoot in the dark, so maybe by writing it down it will serve as a reminder to ME to be careful with my exposure in darker situations!


We don't normally think of a fictional fairy wearing black, but I felt  it was the best choice given the vision  for a dim scene with minimal light. I purposely chose a dress with long sleeves so that  the skin in the face area, where the expression and story was being conveyed,  would  be the brightest area in the scene. Luckily I remembered I had a black dress featuring intricate lace in the upper part which worked perfectly; it was dark but still had an organic fairytale quality to it.


These are Small Dragonfly Iridescent Fairy Wings by the amazing Fancy Fairy Wings which I purchased 8 years ago. 


Focal Length • 50mm

Speed 1/100

f 2

ISO 125

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading!

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