Posts Tagged ‘Gels’

Lighting 103: Use Gels to Tune Your Home’s Lighting

05 May

Abstract: You can use your knowledge of color temperature and gels to improve the quality of light in your home.

So far, everything we have done has centered on gelling a single light to create a single desired color shift. But before we make the jump into using multiple colors and light sources, one quick hack for your home's lighting that will help you to improve the quality of light in compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Like the gawdawful green-tinged lamp above, for example. Read more »

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Lighting 103: Using Gels to Shift the Ambient

21 Apr

Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complimentary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.

In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to control the color of the ambient areas of your frame. This can allow you to tweak, enhance or drastically an ambient color environment. Read more »

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How to Use Colored Gels for Creative Off-Camera Flash Photography

17 Apr

Diving into off-camera flash photography opens up a world of exciting, new and creative possibilities. Besides giving you the option to shape and control the light in your image with a flash unit, you can also use colored gels to modify the color of your scene to add either a subtle creative touch or a more dramatic impact.

off-camera flash using a blue colored gel

A man playing electric guitar lit creatively by an off-camera flash colored blue.

This guide will help you to get started using off-camera flash and colored gels to bring your photography to the next level!

What are colored gels and how are they used?

Colored gels (sometimes called color filters or lighting gels) are thin pieces of colored transparent material. They can be fitted over the top of your flash unit to modify the color of the light.

Examples of colored gels that can be used to modify the color of light from off-camera flashes

A small example of the variety of colored gels available.

Often, the reason for using a colored gel is to tone of the flash so that it matches the color (white balance) of the room. For example, a typical camera flash fired in a room lit by tungsten light bulbs will appear much bluer against the orange ambient background light. By covering the flash with a gel that is tinted orange, you can make the flash match the existing lighting conditions so that all sources contribute the same color to your final image.

Attaching the colored gels to your flash

A gel can be attached to a flash in a number of ways. Perhaps the most common method for portable flash units is with a velcro strap that wraps around the flash tube. If you’re in a real pinch, you could even simply use a piece of tape. Just make sure that the gel completely covers the flash so that it completely modifies that color of the light.

Note: Magmod makes a system to do just that – read Suzi Pratt’s overview of Magmod options here.

  • Magmod Basic Kit on Amazon including attachment device and gels – $ 89.95 (are a bit more durable and will last longer than the gels).
  • Honl Photo Speed Strap – $ 10.95
  • Honl gel kits – around $ 19.95
A red colored gel filter covering an off-camera flash unit

A red gel has been attached snugly to the flash unit and will now change the color of the light from the flash to red.

A sideview of a colored gel fitted over a flash unit, attached by a Velcro strap

A view of the Honl Photo Speed Strap, which uses velcro to allows you to quickly and easily attach a color gel to your flash unit.

Gels come in a wide variety of colors and are very inexpensive, which makes it easy to get started experimenting with this fun style of photography. Also, they can continue to be used even if they are scratched or folded. You only need to replace a gel if it has a rip or a small hole.

Once you have your off-camera flash or multiple speedlight units ready, you can begin to get creative!

Using colored gels with a dark background

When getting started, one of the best ways to get a sense of how to use color gels is by taking pictures in a dark room. This gives you full control over the light throughout the scene. Creating a dark background doesn’t have anything to do with putting up black curtains or finding a wall that is painted black – it’s all about controlling where the light spills.

First, you’ll want to find a medium to large sized room. Dim the lights so that you can produce a perfectly black image without flash (available room light only). Place your subject a fair distance away from the far wall. By directing the light from your flash units only towards your subject and away from the wall behind them, you can create a completely black background.

To add just a hint of color, put a color gel only on your secondary flash. The key (main) light provides adequate lighting for the subject, while the secondary flash adds drama, intrigue, and style to the photo.

A man plays guitar with a burst of blue color from the flash behind him

This photo was taken with two flashes – the one in the front hitting him is not tinted with any color, the one behind him is gelled blue. Light from the blue-tinted flash has been allowed to “spill” towards the camera lens, created the colored lens flare effect.

Once you’ve mastered this straight-forward style of shot, you can start to mix and match colors for unexpected and fascinating results.

Getting creative with color

Color plays an incredibly vital role in telling a story or establishing a mood. We are all familiar with typical color associations – yellow represents happiness, red represents anger, blue represents sadness, and so on.

With a variety of color choices at your fingertips, you can craft a precise feeling or mood in your images simply by adding a colored gel over your flash unit.

A portrait of a man taken with a light from a flash that has been tinted blue

This image was lit by a single flash with a blue colored gel to give it a mood of introspection and melancholy.

It is important to visualize the final image you intend to create, otherwise, your shot can quickly turn into a jumble of mismatched colors.

Remember that you can also color more than just the subject. Firing a colored flash at the background wall can instantly update it, which is perfect for adding some variety to studio-style portrait shots.

An image of a man with a lightsaber, made possible through a red colour placed over an off-camera flash unit

Since lightsabers haven’t been invented yet, an off-camera flash that has been covered with a red color gel provides the distinctive glow for this image. The lightsaber itself was added later in Photoshop.

How understanding color can help you create drama

Once you start playing with color, it helps to have an understanding of how and why certain colors work better together than others.


You can apply even some basic knowledge from a color wheel to get a sense of how you can create bold and vibrant color pairs. For example, colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors, as they pair together very well. Knowing this you can mix blue and orange for a dramatic shot. Many Hollywood movies use color theory to help make their footage more vivid.

Or, you can break the rules for more surprising and unexpected results!

A man holding a guitar, lit by light from blue and red colored gels on off-camera flashes

Blue and red create a strong contrast, which adds a feeling of tension and drama to this image.

Once you get comfortable with controlling and creating colored light, your creative options are endless. For example, you can use a flash tinted orange to recreate the glow of a sunset. You can also begin mixing and matching with ambient light conditions, which is much trickier but can be very rewarding.

You’ll be surprised how much a thin sheet of colored plastic can transform your photography!

Some important tips to remember

  • Darker color gels, such as deep reds or blues, block a portion of the light that the flash gives off. When working with these colors you will need to increase the amount of flash power compared to when you use flash on its on.
  • If you don’t have a full set of colors, you can layer two colored gels over top of each other. For example, blue and red colored gels can be combined to make purple. Remember that doubling them up will block even more light and require additional flash power.
  • You can use any traditional flash modifiers, such as umbrellas and soft boxes, along with color gels in order to soften or shape the light that is produced.
  • Experiment and play! Even if it seems intimidating or complicated at first, trial and error is a fantastic way to learn a new skill or technique that you can add to your repertoire.

Please share your questions, comments and images shot with colored gels below.

The post How to Use Colored Gels for Creative Off-Camera Flash Photography by Frank Myrland appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use Lighting Gels to Change your Background Color

10 Apr

If there’s one thing that bugs me about shooting in studio, more than anything, it’s that you need to have tonnes of backgrounds, taking up loads of space. I’ve even gone as far as having a painter come in and create an interesting wall for me because I get bored with what I had. I’ve got over 15 backgrounds between paper, canvas, cloth, and even some vinyl castle doors.

Part of what I love about location work is the variety of backgrounds. Often you’re restricted to working in the the studio by the client, so that where this handy technique comes into it’s own.


I’ve been using gels in studio to add color to my subjects for years. A gel is a colored, transparent, sheet of heat resistant plastic. They look akin to the colored wrappers you get on some candies. They’re generally used in theatre to create mood, or emulate natural looks like moonlight, fire, etc. Gels were a big thing in photography in the 80s, and they’re making a comeback now thanks to photographers like Jake Hicks and Glenn Norwood. This article isn’t about their techniques, but it is about something I’ve started to do because of seeing their work.

Shooting on location with speedlights mean that I’m always on the lookout for great tools that make life easy for set up. Using gels meant that when I saw the MagMod kit, I knew I had to get a set. MagMod uses strong magnets and rubber mouldings to create a grip that stretches over your speed light. It’s much neater than rubber bands or velcro. Accessories like the MagGrid, or the MagGel holder are simply held in place with internal magnets, and are easy to swap on and off as you need.

Basic Kit 1 1861968723

The really great thing that applies here, is that the gels they use are rigid, not flimsy and awkward to get in and out of a holder. The basic kit ships with a MagGrip, a MagGrid and a MagGel set with color correcting gels. I also bought the Creative Gel set, and that’s what I’m using to get different background colors in my studio. They’ve also just announced the new Artist set as well.

Let’s start with the basic back wall in my studio. It’s dark grey, with a light grey mottle over it as brush strokes.

Using Gels background 05

You should set the flash to get the amount of light you want on the background. Here is mine set to 1/4 power (below).

Using Gels background 04

Below it is at 1/8 power, which I think is better for getting the color to work.

Using Gels background 06

From here you can add the gels to change the color of the background. There are plenty of options for using gels, you can even just use gaffa tape with sheet gel-or even just a rubber band. Even using the MagGel set, it’s possible for you to cut out sections from gels sheets, and then trap this cutout between the empty MagGel holder and the MagGrip.


Let’s have a look at the different gels:

Using Gels background 07


Using Gels background 08


Using Gels background 09


Using Gels background 10


Using Gels background 12


Using Gels background 13


Using Gels background 15


As well as changing the color, you can also change the intensity of the light by varying your flash power.

Here’s how the the cyan gel looks at varying power, in one stop increments starting at 1/64 power up to full power.

Using Gels background 20

1/64 Power

Using Gels background 19

1/32 Power

Using Gels background 18

1/16 Power

Using Gels background 17

1/8 Power

Using Gels background 16

Quarter (1/4) Power

Using Gels background 21

Half (1/2) Power

Using Gels background 22

Full Power

As you can see, it’s possible to get a whole range of looks from just a few gels. By using the MagGrid, you can also create coloured spots of light, that fade out to the original background color. A neutral grey background is a great starting point because it takes the color well. White tends to be harder to add color to with gels (just looks washed out). You can also mix gels together to get other colors, just know that this will also absorb more light.

If you want to get started by just using gels sheets, check out Lee Filters or Rosco on Amazon. They both have sample packs with strips that just fit over the front of most current speed lights.

Have fun!

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Spice-Up Your Outdoor Photos with Wireless Off-camera Flash and Gels

17 Jun

Wireless off-camera flash is a great way to add a splash of light and give a scene an added dimension, or to fill in shadows in high-contrast scenes. The TTL (through the lens) exposure feature makes it easier than ever to get a well-exposed image without the need for a flash meter. However, there’s one more ingredient that you can add that will open up a new world of creative possibilities for your photography. That ingredient is easy to find, easy to use, and affordable: colored flash gels.

What’s a gel?

A gel is a piece of colored cellophane that you place over your flash head. Gels are available individually (expensive) or in more pocketbook-friendly multiple gel kits, which may contain anywhere from half a dozen to 20 or more different color variations. Gels come in primary (red, yellow, blue), secondary (green, purple, orange), and tertiary colors (Kelly green, red violet, pink, aquamarine, etc.).

Rogue envelope 600

The Expoimaging Rogue Gel Universal Lighting Filter Kit has 20 different gels that are: well-organized in tabbed compartments; housed in a handy-dandy holder; and divided logically into warm colors, cool colors, and color corrective gels. Each gel has information about how many stops of light it blocks, as well as White Balance values. This will help you determine appropriate exposure, flash output, and camera White Balance settings.

Some kits include color correction gels, which are intended to balance the flash (normally balanced for daylight) with artificial light sources, such as incandescent or fluorescent lights. They can also be used to add elements of warm, or cool light, as more subtle effects. While individual gels are larger and can be cut to custom-fit your flash, kits gels are generally smaller but large enough to fit over nearly any shoe-mounted flash, and usually come with a band or fabric fastener strip that affixes the gel to the flash.

Flash redgel rubberband 600

Simple setup

All you have to do is take the gel and affix it to the front of your flash. While Rogue includes a black band that will do the job with just about any flash unit, sometimes a forgetful author needs to make due with a MacGuyver-like solution, such as using a rubber band (see image above).

The key to using a color gel to accent a scene is to use it with an off-camera flash. Fortunately, the cost of a TTL wireless flash is low. For instance, the Canon Speedlite 430 EX II currently costs under $ 260 USD, which is quite affordable. Whether you are using a DSLR, such as the Canon EOS 70D, or an advanced compact with wireless flash control, such as the Canon G16, you can fire the off-camera flash via a pulse from the on-camera flash.

Let’s take a look at one example of gels in action

Whitefence noflash 600

Blah foreground – this white fence could be a unifying element in this photo of a restored colonial village in Piscataway, New Jersey, but because it’s in the shade, it’s just a boring grey. Gear: Canon EOS 7D, Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.

Whitefence flash nogel 600

A splash of flash – even if the fence had been more evenly lit, the plain white flash on the fence overpowers the image. Gear: Canon EOS 7D, Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, and Canon Speedlite 430 EX II flash.

Whitefence redgel 600

Bright red adds interest – the idea was to pick up the red tones of the building in the background while leading the eye into the shot by adding a red gel, courtesy ExpoImaging Rogue Gels (read on). Reducing the intensity of the flash output would have changed the color from pink to red. Gear: same as above with Rogue Bright Red Gel added.

Whitefence levendargel 600

Oops, wrong color! In this case, the lavender gel was a mismatch. A color wheel, available at art supply stores, will help you make better choices. Gear: Same as above with Rogue Special KH Lavender Gel.

Step-by-step – how to trigger a Canon off-camera flash wirelessly

Here are the step-by-step directions for triggering a Canon 430 EX II wireless Canon flash from the Canon 7D. If you’re using another camera, check your manual for wireless flash instructions. Among Canon bodies, the directions will be similar to the following:


  1. Turn the flash on, then press and hold the Zoom button for a second or two. You’ll see a new flash icon and Ch 1 Slave A appear in the LCD screen (see photo above).
  2. Turn the camera on and pop up the flash.Wirelessfunc
  3. In Menu in the first tab (camera operation), choose Flash Control, then scroll down to Built-in flash function setting, select Wireless Functions and choose the middle setting of the single flash (see above)

Take pictures!

Although the on-camera flash is flipped up, it will not fire during the exposure. Rather, it will flash a split-second before the exposure, which triggers the off-camera flash to fire during exposure, so your only source of flash illumination during exposure is the off-camera flash. To the naked eye, it looks as if the two flashes are going off simultaneously, but they’re not.

If you want both the on-camera and off-camera flash to trigger simultaneously during exposure, go back to Wireless Functions and choose the bottom setting, which shows the off-camera flash icon + a flip-up flash icon. In this setting, your off-camera flash is your key (strongest) light source, and the flip-up flash is a fill light. Choose the top setting (Off camera flash = flip-up flash) and both will provide equal power. We’ll explore these options in future articles.

The other way to set off a wireless flash is by using a separate wireless transmitter such as the Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2. The advantage of using a transmitter over triggering your off-camera flash via your camera’s built-in flash, is that the transmitter uses infrared signals, and can trigger the flash from farther away, and at greater angles. When using your on-camera flash, your flash sensor must always be within line of sight of your camera. If you’re using a full-frame DSLR, such as the Canon EOS-6D or 5D Mark III, neither of which has a built-in flash, you will need a transmitter to trigger off-camera flash.

Let your imagination run wild! You can add crazy colors and transform a scene, or you can use a more subtle approach to improve a scene without overpowering it. Here are a few examples of both techniques.

Steeple redtree 600

Wild and crazy – red tree adds primary color to offset the deep blue sky and add foreground interest. Too much? It’s a matter of personal taste.

Steeple noflash 600

Before -this “frame within a frame” composition doesn’t quite work because the foreground is too dark, and the sun-drenched but interesting background is too light.

Steeple fullCTO 600

When lit with an unadorned flash, the foreground was uninvitingly cool. After adding a full CTO gel, the subtle splash of warmer light frames the background nicely.

Experiment. Try different gels to see what they look like. Don’t like your result? Try another one. Here are several variations where different color gels were used against a foreground wall in the shade, to balance a bright, sunlit scene in the background. Camera and flash setup are same as above.

Wall fullCTO flash 600

Gel: full CTO, balanced for 3,200K ambient light

Wall mossblue 600

Gel: Moss Green

Wall justblue 600

Gel: Just Blue

Wall red 600

Gel: Red

Wall nogel 600

No gel

Have you done any experimenting with colored gels and off-camera flash? Please share your results and comments below.

The post Spice-Up Your Outdoor Photos with Wireless Off-camera Flash and Gels by Mason Resnick appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Balancing Color for Flash and Ambient Light using Gels

13 Jan

Flash with 1 CTO plus 1/8 CTOIn the last article Balancing Flash and Ambient Light Using an Incident Light Meter I did not mention color temperature or any correction for the colorcast in the background. There were however requests for it in the comments section, so in this article we will cover three ways of balancing color for flash and ambient light (tungsten yellow/orange which is approximately 3200°K, flash which has a color temperature close to daylight or 5500°K).

Color Temperature Explained

Before you go into the process of correcting color imbalance you will need to understand color temperature. A basic description of color temperature is based on the color characteristics of visible light from warm (yellows) to cool (blues) and the ability to measure this in degrees Kelvin (°K). Degrees Kelvin is a numerical value assigned to the color emitted by a light source. Visualize a lamp filament that is heated using an electric current. It starts off as black and starts getting hot. At a particular point it will become hot enough to start glowing, typically a dark red. As it gets hotter, it will change from dark red to orange to yellow to practically white. It is important to understand that technically, red light has a lower color temperature but is described as warm, while blue light is a higher color temperature but is described as cool. So remember that the terms warm and cool describe color, not temperature. This is a fairly extensive topic but for a quick explanation this should help.

Read more on White Balance and color temperature:

  • Practical White Balance and Why You Should Learn It!
  • Introduction to White Balance

Since warm and cool are colors, we can change their characteristics by modifying color. In lighting we achieve this modification by using various colored gels of varying densities. Lets examine the first and simplest method.

Method One – Using Color Gels on the Flash

Here are two images of the same scene, one using Auto White Balance (AWB) and the next using Daylight White Balance (WB). The daylight WB is 5200°K while the AWB applied 3200°K. Clearly the Daylight WB is too yellow.

Auto WB

Image captured with camera set to Auto White Balance (AWB)

Same scene as above captured with the camera set to Daylight White Balance

Same scene as above captured with the camera set to Daylight White Balance

The Problem

The background room is lit by tungsten bulbs (typically around 3200°K). We will use a flash to light the main subject (approximately 5500°K).  This is a considerable difference that you will need to resolve. So if you can make both the light sources match in color temperature, you can then set the WB on your camera to that, and get a perfectly balanced image.

The Solution

To achieve this balance, you will use a color correction gel on your flash, to match the orange color of the tungsten bulbs. Theoretically both sources will now produce the same color. So if you set your camera’s WB to “tungsten” you will capture the background without any colorcast and it will look neutral. What about your primary subject? Since the flash output has been color modified to “tungsten”, the entire scene will look natural and devoid of any colorcast as long as the lights are close to the color temperature of tungsten.

Color correction is achieved using gels. These gels are manufactured by companies like Roscoe, Lee and ExpoImaging. Gels come in all sizes from large rolls to precut sheets. My preferences are the Rogue Gels made by ExpoImaging as they are the perfect size for flash heads and are attached using an elastic band. Each gel is marked for its strength and light loss. As a starter, for under $ 10 you can buy sample packs from most lighting supply stores.

Gels that create yellow/orange light are known as CTO gels (Color Temperature Orange). These gels are available in various strengths as follows:

  • 1/8 CTO Converts 5500°K to 4900°K
  • 1/4 CTO Converts 5500°K to 4500°K
  • 1/2 CTO Converts 5500°K to 3800°K
  • 3/4 CTO Converts 5500°K to 3200°K
  • Full CTO Converts 5500°K to 2900°K

I recommend you start with a full CTO and adjust by adding or reducing the color temperature correction by either combining gels or using gels of lesser strength. Since these gels add color they also reduce the amount of light transmitted. Based upon the gel that you are using, you will need to compensate for the loss of light. The typical light loss is mentioned in “f” stops with each gel strength. This information is typically imprinted on the gel or provided on a backing sheet of paper. You should use this information as an initial guideline for compensating your exposure.

This method will work reasonably well. However, it is not the most accurate, as it relies purely on a visual color correction. See the result in the following image:

The camera White Balance is set to Tungsten and the flash is gelled using a Full CTO

The camera White Balance is set to Tungsten and the flash is gelled using a Full CTO

Notice that the color of the subject is fairly accurate but the background is still a bit yellow/orange. The color temperature of the lights in the background may not be true 3200°K.

Method Two – Gels on the Ambient Light Source

In the second method, you will use gels over the offending lights if at all feasible. In this example consider it not feasible. However, you can use additional flash heads to overcome the problem of the tungsten colorcast. You do this by applying an opposing color gel to one or more flash light sources to fill the background. Keep in mind that based upon the size or the area and the intensity of the ambient light in the background, this too may not always be feasible. Take the additional flashheads (make sure they can be fired as slaves) and put a CTB (Color Temperature Blue) gel on each. What you are attempting to do is to negate the effect of the Tungsten by adding blue light to the ambient environment. Test your exposure and set the camera to “flash” white balance. Once again, you may need to add or subtract the gel intensity.

The set up. Note how the flash heads are concealed from view

The set up: note how the flash heads are concealed from view and pointed into the room that is the background

The CTB gels like CTO gels are available in multiple strengths as follows:

  • 1/8 CTB Boosts 3200°K to 3300°K
  • 1/4 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 3500°K
  • 1/2 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 3800°K
  • 3/4 CTO Boosts 3200°K to 4100°K
  • Full CTO Boosts 3200°K to near daylight

Once you are satisfied with the background color, go ahead and photograph the primary subject. Do not gel the main flash and leave the white balance on “flash”.

Color Bal

Color Correction using blue gels in the background

In each of the cases above there is still some color cast in the final image. This is because the lights in the background are not true 3200°K and we have been relying on tungsten color temperature for our corrections.

Method Three – Custom White Balance for Background and Matching Gels on Flash

Here you use custom white balance to establish an exact white balance setting for the ambient light. It is best to use a “white balance card” or a device like the X-Rite Color Checker Passport.

Color Checker Passport in Ambient Light

Image captured of  a Color Checker Passport in ambient light

Zoomed in for creating a Custom White Balance

Color Checker Passport – Zoomed in for creating a Custom White Balance

Image of the Color Checker Passport after Custom White Balance was established

Image of the Color Checker Passport after Custom White Balance was established

If possible, bring that image into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and determine the actual color temperature. In this case, it is 2400°K, which, as you can see, is vastly different from the 3200°K tungsten. No wonder there was still a yellow colorcast in the first method. Use this measurement to establish the gel strength needed for the primary flash. If you cannot use Lightroom or any other software to obtain an accurate color temperature reading, you will need to do a bit of trial and error to determine how much CTO to use. In this case we need to get to 2400°K. A full CTO will drop 5500°K to 3200°K and a 1/8 CTO will drop an additional 600°K bringing the correction to 2600°K which is fairly close to what we need. Leave the camera set to the custom WB and gel the flash with one Full CTO gel and one 1/8 CTO gel to get a well balanced image.

The correct White Balance for the background

The correct White Balance for the background


Using a Full CTO on flash head

Using a Full CTO on flash head

Flas with 1 CTO plus 1/8 CTO

Flash with a Full CTO plus a 1/8 CTO – a well color balanced image

One full CTO and one 1/4 CTO – the subject is a bit warm

One full CTO and one 1/4 CTO – the subject is a bit warm

In Conclusion

Always keep a set of color correction gels in your bag if you use flash on location.  Not only will you need them for indoor flash photography but the CTO gels are a ideal when using flash for portraiture at sunrise or sunset.

The post Balancing Color for Flash and Ambient Light using Gels by Shiv Verma appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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Add Interest to your Background with Colored Gels

22 Nov

Colored gels are commonly used to balance flash color temperature with the color temperature of ambient light. But you can also use gels to add creative color effects to your photos.

Photo of a young boy dressed as a Japanese samurai

I recently shot this portrait of my son to commemorate his Shichi Go San (7-5-3) ceremony. Shichi Go San is a Japanese rite of passage performed at ages 3 and 7 for girls, and at age 5 for boys.

The background is a black piece of cloth, stretched across a Manfrotto background stand. To separate him from the background, and add visual interest, I used a single flash with a DIY blue gel to add some color to the background. In this article I’ll explain how to make your own gels, and how to use them. Lighting your background separately from your subject, with or without gels, is a great way to add depth to your photos and can help separate subjects from a dark background.

Here’s how it looks with only the background light:

Photo showing the use of a blue gel to tone a black background

First, an overview of the lighting setup for this shot:

Main Lights: 2 x Canon 430EX II Speedlites at full power, fired through 24″ Lastolite EZY-Box softboxes at camera left and right, just outside the frame.

Background Light: Single Canon 430EX II Speedlite in a snoot, with DIY blue gel, fired at the background from the right side of the set. I aimed this flash so that the hotspot would be centered behind my son’s head.

Exposure: 1/200, f/6.3, ISO 200
Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

How to make your own DIY Gels

Any piece of thin colored plastic will work well. For the above photo I used two circles of plastic that I cut from a notebook cover. I purchased the notebook for 100 yen, or about USD $ 1.25. Experiment with different colors to find what works with your creative style, and for the particular photo you’re creating. For portrait work, I’m partial to cool tones, especially blues. Warm colors appear to pop out against cool colors, so a cool colored background works well to compliment skin tones.

In addition to the gel, you also need a snoot. A snoot narrows the light, and gives a spotlight effect. This keeps blue light from spilling all over the place. For this photo, I used a Gary Fong Powersnoot, because I already have one. But a piece of black poster board folded into a cylinder works just as well.

Photo showing steps to make colored flash gels

My 8-year-old daughter taped the blue plastic to the end of the snoot for me. If you don’t have an 8-year-old, see if you can borrow one from a friend or relative. Failing that, you can also tape the plastic onto the snoot yourself.

How much flash output?

So, how much flash do you need on the background to get a nice color effect? At first glance this may seem counterintuitive, but here’s the rule:

More flash = lighter color
Less flash = darker color

The reason for this is simple. The brighter your background flash, higher the luminosity of the color hitting the background will be.

So for a nice, deep blue like in this photo, you only need a little kiss of light from your flash. I powered a single 430EX II at 1/4 power for the background light, compared to two 430EX II’s at full power for the main lights. My background flash was about the same distance from the background as my main flashes were from the subject, so basically the light on the background is 4 stops weaker than the light on the subject. (1 flash @ 1/4 power on the background, 2 flashes @ full power on the subject.)

I hope this article has given you some ideas about how to make your own DIY flash gels from inexpensive materials, as well as how to use gels to add creative color effects to your photos. I’d love to hear from you, feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Google+ or Facebook.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

Check out our more Photography Tips at Photography Tips for Beginners, Portrait Photography Tips and Wedding Photography Tips.

Add Interest to your Background with Colored Gels

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