Quick Tips for Using Color Gels in Photography Lighting

Gels are pieces of colored plastic which you attach to the front of your artificial light source (strobes / flashes) to either change the color temperature of the light or get some creative effects going. If the ambient light in the room is dominant, you can use gels to match the color of your artificial light:

Every source of light has a specific color temperature associated with it. Our eyes can adjust to the color temperature of different light sources on the fly. But with cameras, you have to dial in the right white balance manually or leave it on auto white balance.

In a mixed lighting situation, however, this becomes a bit of a problem.

For example, in a room lit by only tungsten light with the camera set to daylight white balance, everything will appear too warm. Push the white balance to tungsten to cool things down. That’s, however, the best case scenario; it rarely happens in everyday life.

balancing white balance with gels

What happens when you want to add a flash to that setup? The flash is daylight balanced, which means with the tungsten white balance setting, the light from the flash is going to appear quite a bit blue.

introducing color gels

This is where you need a color gel. As David Bergman shows, color gels come in large sheets as well as in smaller pre-cut shapes. You can cut your specific shape / size or use one of the pre-cut sizes.

what are color gels

Tape a gel around your preferred studio light so there’s no leakage of white light. With a CTO gel, you’re basically making the light from the flash match the ambient light. With both the lights matching it is easier for the camera to adjust white balance for the whole scene.

using color gels

The same way, if you’re in a room with a lot of cool blue light, using a color temperature blue (CTB) gel allows you to match the light of the flash with the ambient light in the room.

Gels can be used to create a zillion of different creative effects. A backlight for example can be gelled to separate the subject from the background as well as to give a cool light effect.

How do you use color gels?

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