How to Change the Mood of Your Photos Using Color Gels

Sometimes a simple thing like a color gel can drastically change the mood of a photo. Gels can also come in handy when you need to give a very specific look to your photos—something that would otherwise take a lot of effort to achieve. The best thing is these gels are inexpensive. In this video photographer Joe McNally shows us how he used color gels to completely change the “complexion” of an image:

There are many varieties of color gels and chances are if you’re looking for a very specific color you’ll find it.

Color gels fit seamlessly into any type of shoot, regardless of the budget. They tend to act as the final ingredient of the shoot, bringing everything together to make the shot. Like in this shoot where the gear that McNally uses for the shoot was finally brought together by the use of a single sheet of “Theatrical Blue.”

The goal of the shoot was to create the impression of a director or cinematographer. McNally used the main aisle of a theater for the shoot and the stairs leading up to the screen acted as the backdrop.

Gear Used

using color gels to change the mood

Theater Scene

Two of the speedlights were hand-held on either side of the aisle, which highlighted the subject against the background and also created the rim lighting for the seats. The last light, which acted as the backlight and had the gel on (also hand-held), was held several steps behind the subject and can be seen in the image above.

McNally explains,

“It could be the projector light at the back of theater, and projectors, generally speaking, look to the naked eye—when you look right at them—cool or blue.”

Thus the blue gel transformed an ordinary speedlight and gave off the impression of a projector light. That was the final ingredient of the image that completed the look.

How have you used color gels in your photography?

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