This week we explore how objects between and around your flash affect your images. You may have heard of terms like cookie, flag and gobo when referring to lighting, what the heck are these things and will using them benefit your images? Lets talk about it…


Cookies are an object which is placed in front of your light source to shape the output of the light emitted. Cookies are often improperly referred to as a gobo. A gobo is usually placed at the point of focus for a light source and provide a crisp source of shaped light with shadow. I’m sure you have seen these used at concerts and places where there are shapes projected onto the floor of the stage. Because the cookie is not placed at the point of focus, (it is placed after the optics of the light between the light and your subject) the patterns created by the cookie is generally less focused depending on the proximity to the light source – which we will discuss. Because this article focuses on photographic lighting and not stage lighting, we will not discuss gobos.

The most recognizable use of cookies is in the gangster/cop drama Film noir style of cinematography. Film noir translates in French to “black film” or “dark film”, and was first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946. The film noir visual style is characterized by low-key lit imagery with unbalanced compositions.

Making a Cookie

Two DIY cookies

This type of image is easy to create with a small amount of DIY effort. Recently, I bought some foam core backboards to mount some images on for a gallery show. While trimming the boards, I saved a stack of long pieces for just this sort of project. Example 1 shows the result of my building efforts, and my dog Fauna pointing at which one of the cookies she prefers (she likes noir style because she can’t see color.). For the single hole cookie, I just lined up the pieces and taped them with about an inch space (1-inch spacing seems to be the sweet spot for most of this type of cookie). The pieces are about 18 inches long and I fastened them together with some gorilla tape. Usually 24-inch pieces are recommended, but I went with what I had on hand. For the blinds effect cookie, I cut some of the larger pieces into 1-inch strips, measured out 1-inch gaps and taped away. Feel free to use whatever method to affix the pieces together, and if there aren’t any gaps, the resulting look in the image will be the same. What shapes you make are totally up to you – I just went with a cookie that would produce a classic noir look. You can make circles, shapes, and they can be uniform or not – the look is up to you. A foam core board with random size shape and size holes in non-uniform locations can make a cool cookie that produces interesting backgrounds

Playing with distances

How you use the cookie can also be a point of creativity. To get crisp, more defined edges, you want the light source fairly far away from the cookie (at least 8 feet plus). If you are looking for a softer look to your edges – less defined like in my example 2 photo. You can move the cookie closer to the light source, in this case I had the cookie about 2 feet from the strobe.

Example 1 – single slot cookie

Example 1 is the single slot cookie that Fauna liked. This was farther, about five feet away from the light source. Look at the difference in contrast between the two images, notice that the edges on the shaped light are significantly sharper than the ones in the blinds cookie. Looking at the setup photo, you can see that I feathered the light a bit toward the camera. On the flash are some Barn doors which I was using for another project while I shot these examples.

Example 2 – blinds style cookie

The shapes of the cookies and distances from the light source can be a lot of fun to experiment with. Consider a heart or other shape with your model in the center for an interesting effect. This is a very fun technique – have a good time with it!

I hope you found this information helpful, feel free to post some images on Instagram or Twitter and tag me, I’d love to see your work!

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