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I LOVE using color gels for lighting, they add so much creativity to a shot, and if you’re not already using color gels for your lighting, here are five tips to get you going!
Tip number one: You have to control your lights
How your lights interact is ALWAYS important, but when using color gels with your lighting, it’s even MORE important because the interactions will have a huge effect on how the color looks.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to use a color gel to make a nice, blue background, and then for the subject, you want to use a non-gelled main light .
If you don’t control the spill from that non-gelled main light, it’s going to wash out the color of the background on the Background.
The fix for this is really simple, it’s just a matter of modifying or flagging your lights to make sure they only interact when you want them to.
Tip number two: Watch for light leakage
This is related to the first tip, and it pertains to how you attach your color gels to your lighting.
If you attach your gels like I, and many other photographers do, you’re using gaff tape or velcro or rubber bands.
When you attach your gels this way, they don’t always perfectly cover the flash head, and this can lead to un-gelled light leaking out and contaminating your scene.
The fix for this is really easy. All it takes is a bit of gaff tape to seal up any gaps and prevent light leakage.
Tip number three: Double up your gels to make colors you don’t have!
It’s honestly pretty easy and cheap to get a variety of gel colors, but this tip has saved my butt a bunch of times. If you find yourself short of a color, just mix the colors you do have to create it.
For example, if you don’t have a purple gel, you can double up a red and blue gel and you’ll get purple light.
And a bonus tip, you can also double up color gels of the same color to increase the intensity of that color!
Now, for tip number four: Color gels for lighting are generally more effective with low key lighting.
If you’re using color gels with your lighting, it stands to reason that you want to see the color, and generally speaking, high key images will tend to wash away that color.
The key here is that you again have to be aware of the interactions, and in this case, it’s understanding how the key of your image will affect the way your colors will show up in the image.
And, finally, tip number five: The brightness of your background will affect the intensity of your colors, and this will change how you have to set your lights.
Generally speaking, as you make a color brighter, it continues to approach the point at which it becomes so bright that it’s just white.
With a color gel on your flash, the higher the power is set, the brighter the light passing through the gel will be, and the brighter that light is, the closer the gelled color will be to white.
That is true of the light itself, but that’s not accounting for the what the light is bouncing off of, and how bright or dark that is will change how this works.
The brighter the reflective surface is, the more light it will reflect, and the more light is reflects, the brighter it will be, moving the color closer to white.
What this means is that against a brighter backdrop, if you want your colors to be more intense, you need to use lower power settings. That will reflect less light, allowing for more color intensity.
Whereas on a dark surface, much of the light is absorbed, and so at a low power, so little of the gelled light will be reflected that it just goes completely dark.
What this means is that against a darker backdrop, if you want your colors to be more intense, you need to use higher power settings. That will reflect more light, increasing the intensity of the color.
I used to be scared of my flash, and I understand how intimidating flash photography can be, but a flash is just a tool. Once you understand how that tool works you’ll be using your flash to create photos that used to seem impossible.
If you want to master your flash and take those amazing photos, check out my Understanding Flash Photography Video Course.