Skip to main content

5 creative indoor portrait ideas - Part 3: Slit lighting effect

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

This style of moody, low-key lighting is normally created by placing a light modifier – commonly referred to as a gobo – in front of your flash. Gobos are available in a whole range of shapes and sizes, and can generate a variety of different patterns and shapes. 

If you’ve never heard of a gobo before, then essentially this is a stencil or a template that is placed in front of a light source to modify the shape of the light. In our case we’re using a gobo to create a thin slit of light.

If you don’t have the budget to invest in a branded gobo kit, use your crafting skills and make your own. It’s incredibly simple: all you need is a small cardboard box that is large enough to fit over the front of your flashgun, a pencil, and a crafting knife or a pair of scissors. 

With your pencil, trace around the flash head of your flashgun onto one end of the box, and use your crafting knife or scissors to cut out a hole so that your flashgun can slide snuggly into it. On the opposite side, make a small slit, which will narrow the band of light and create that slither of light.

Slit lighting effect in six steps

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

1. Set up your flash

Grab your flashgun, attach your wireless trigger, and secure it to a sturdy light stand. Make sure that the flash head is exposed enough so that you have plenty of room to slide on your DIY gobo

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

2. Attach the modifier

Grab your DIY gobo light modifier and slide it over the end of your flashgun. Ensure that it is a snug fit, so that all of the flash head is enclosed within the box.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

3. Position your model

Ask your model to get into position in front of the flash. It’s important that they don’t move around too much, so it might be beneficial to ask them to sit on a chair or a stool.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

4. Aim the flash

Unless your flash has a modelling light, you’re going to have to guess where to aim the flashgun. Do this by looking over the top of the box and lining it up with your model’s face.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

5. Test shot

Take a quick test shot, and then review the image. You may need to adjust the position of the light until the thin slit of light is in exactly the right position on the model’s face.

(Image credit: Tom Calton)

6. Shoot and review

Once you’re happy with the position of the flash, it’s time to bag the shot. Review your shots regularly to ensure that the light is in line with the model’s face. Adjust their position again if necessary.

Read more: 

Best 85mm lenses for portraits
Portrait photographers to follow this year
Home photography ideas
5 creative indoor portrait ideas - Part 1: One-light portraits

Lauren Scott

Lauren is the editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over seven years, she has served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.