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Lighting Modifier Must-Have: Cinefoil

This matte black, heavy-duty aluminum foil is a tremendous lighting solution

There’s a product in your kitchen that works great as a lighting modifier. It’s affordable and disposable, and it won’t catch fire no matter how hard you try. It’s aluminum foil, the same stuff you wrap your leftovers in.

Technically, the studio variety of aluminum foil, also called Cinefoil or black wrap, is matte black in color, and it’s thicker and heavier than the household stuff. But if you imagine how easy it is to roll, bend, cut and shape household aluminum foil, you have an idea of how easy it is to roll, bend, cut and shape Cinefoil. It’s a super-affordable light modifier (a 12-inchx25-foot roll retails for about $25) that can be rolled, bent, cut and shaped into snoots, barn doors and other modifiers that attach to studio lights (strobes or even hot lights, since they’re heat-resistant) in order to control the shape and quality of the output.

A snoot, for instance, is a long tube that attaches to the front of a light and shapes its output into a circle. You can buy a snoot for your light, or you can fashion one out of foil. True, it may not be a perfectly round circle, but it’s going to be close if you take your time with it. Better still, you can fold it and bend it and shape it into many other shapes besides circles, making it even more versatile than the “real” modifier it’s replacing.

Using Cinefoil as a snoot.

Another great use for Cinefoil in the studio is as a barn door. Clamped to the edge of a light, the foil barn door will cut the light and prevent it from falling on part of your scene, based on how you position it. Again, where the “real” product is a rigid rectangle of metal, the flexibility of foil makes custom-shaping your barn door a breeze.

Using Cinefoil as shade.

You can also use black foil as a flag, positioning it somewhere between the light and the subject in order to cut the light and keep it from falling on part of the scene in much the same way a barn door works. But with the cutter away from the light, the shadow edge gets sharper the farther from the source you place it. It may not work for every shot, but sometimes it’s exactly the look you’ll need.

Using Cinefoil as a flag.

Because it’s easy to cut and tear black foil, you can use it to make cookies. Not the edible kind, but the cucoloris kind. A cucoloris, or “cookie,” for short, is positioned between light and the scene to create patterned or textured light. With the cookie close to a specular source, the shadows are soft and the pattern is less defined. With the cookie farther from the light, however, the pattern is sharp-edged and well defined.

The next time you’re in your local photo or video supply store, ask for some cinefoil. It may be the most versatile and cost-effective light modifier in the world.

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