Color Gels in Studio Photography: 5 Ways to Use Them

When used creatively, color gels can add an extra dimension to portraits. As we tend to associate colors with moods, you can get creative with what mood you want to portray in the photograph and use the appropriate color gels accordingly. In the following video, fashion and portrait photographer Elaine Torres shares with us her favorite techniques for using color gels in studio photo shoots:

In her video, Torres discusses the following techniques of using color gels.

1. Using color gels as a main light

By simply placing a color gel over the main light you can add color to the key light. This way the entire subject and the background will be colored. To add some extra depth, a kicker light can be used behind the subject to separate the subject from the background.

color gel as main light

Color gel placed over main light

2. Using color gels as mixed main light

As Torres shows in the video, this technique uses multiple key lights, each key light being covered with a different colored gel. This technique can be use to create a colorful and happy, as well as a moody photo with mixed emotions.

using color gels as mixed main light

Two key lights with different color gels used on each of them

3. Using color gels to color a background

This technique can be used to conveniently change the background color instead of spending too much on buying different backgrounds. To color a background using color gels, cover a strobe with the desired gel and place it close to the background. Place the model in front of the background, making sure that the colored light does not spill onto the model. Then, light the model with a key light. Again, make sure that the key light doesn’t spill over to the background. A grid will come in handy to concentrate the light more toward the model.

using color gel to color a background

Background colored using a color gel

4. Using color gels as props

If you’re not a fan of covering your lighting with gels, then you can even use the color gels as props. Simply place the gels in front of your lens and shoot away. It can add a hazy and dreamy effect to your photograph. You can even overlay different colors and improvise.

using color gels as props

Color gels used off the lights and in front of the lens creatively as props

5. Using color gels as kicker light

If you’re familiar with lighting setups used in studio photography, you must know that a kicker light accentuates the edges of a photograph by highlighting it. This helps to differentiate a subject from its background. By adding a color gel on the kicker light, the edges of the subject will be colored and give an interesting look to the photograph. To make the color stand out more, use a darker background.

using color gels as kicker light

Color gel used in kicker light to add an interesting highlight on the edge of the model’s hair

Now that you have an understanding of the techniques to use color gels in your studio photography, go ahead and get creative.

“With color gels, the possibilities are endless to experiment and be creative.”

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