Jay P Morgan: Snoot Basics

Snoot Basics 17

Today Jay P Morgan answers the age-old question, “What is a snoot?” A snoot is a funny name for a piece of equipment that fits over a studio light or portable flash and allows the photographer to control the direction or area of coverage of the light. In film, black wraps are used to create snoots – basically black aluminum foil that can be formed into a funnel and molded to the light.

So what is the area of coverage with a snoot? This is a hard question to answer since there are many different sizes from different manufacturers and you can make your own. Let’s take a look at how it compares to a grid. The image below shows our subject against a white wall with the light eight feet away. The area of coverage is very narrow and the fall out is very sharp. There is a certain amount of fill in the dark areas on the white wall but the snoot was sealed well enough to the instrument. Images using a snoot usually have a very concentrated area of light with no fill in the shadows.

Compare this to a shot with the same setup using a 10-degree grid. The edges are softer with the grid, the light falls off much faster and there is a hot spot in the middle.

The quality of light with a snoot is a little bit harder than a grid. It is a very directional light with little or no fill from light bouncing off the sides of the reflector. Because the snoot is so far out in front of the reflector, it has negated any side bounce. Take a look at these graphics of how the strobe’s light is distributed using a grid and a snoot.

Now that we have a better understanding of what a snoot is, let's use it on set and see how well it works. As in the last lesson with grids, we created some DIY street light poles with ABS pipe and some Source 4 lights. The car is really two ARRI 650 tungsten lights clamped on a cross bar. The fog was created using a combination of haze and fog from Rosco's V-Hazer and Vapour Plus machines.

For this shoot the composition is as wide as possible with a 24mm, using a shutter speed of 1/8 to help burn in the Source 4 lights. The aperture is f6.3. to preserve some depth of field.

The first strobe light is a PhotoFlex FlexFlash that was placed down low coming in from camera right. This gives us a nice highlight on the victim's face that looks like it is coming from the car. We will use black wrap to make the snoot.

Next, a Dynalite Pencil light was added to our middle street light to give a nice glow around that light.

A snoot was also used on the next light, another FlexFlash. This is an old Speedotron snoot that fits onto a 7-inch reflector. The exposure is kept low on this light so it integrates into the scene and looks like light coming from the car.

The last light is from camera left and will be a rim light on him and a key light on her.

Now that we have all the lights set up, let's get creative.

Here are some of the unedited images:

We got some great images with snoots and a diffuser. Take a look at a few of the edited color images after the faces and floor were retouched:

Snoots create a hard light that has a lot of contrast, which is great for black and white images. It wouldn't be film noir if the images didn't look good in B&W so take a look at the final images after adjustments with Silver Efex:

In conclusion, grids are harder and more diffused on the edges while a snoot is more directional and keeps a constant exposure throughout the light pattern. Snoots do have the advantage of being any size you want them to be when using black wrap to create them. Grids only have four sizes. They both have a place on set though.
Thanks for reading! Jay P reminds us to keep those cameras rollin' and keep on clickin'.

Equipment List:

Photoflex FlexFlash400W

7-inch Reflector Grids

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