GET CREATIVE WITH GELS
Photography week|October 14, 2021
James Paterson show you how to use colour gels over your lights to craft delightfully vibrant portraits
James Paterson

2 HOURS Colour gels are a wonderful way to enhance your lighting and add impact to portraits – by placing a gel in front of a flash or LED you can tint the light to any shade you like. Whether you want a bold colorful backdrop or an atmospheric color tint over your subject, gels are very handy. What’s more, they’re inexpensive and they can be used over budget flashguns, so a simple lighting setup, with just a couple of gelled flashes, won’t cost a lot. And you really don’t need a studio to create beautiful color gel portraits – any large space will do.

In this Crash Course, we’ll look at a range of techniques for creative gel photography, creating everything from bold vibrant looks to moody low-key effects. We’ll explore complementary color combos, and explain the best way to gel your lights. Many of these skills can also be applied to general studio portraiture, such as setting the right exposure and controlling the spread and hardness of your lights.

You can also explore a vast array of colour combos which, when tailored to your subject’s look, outfit, and accessories, give you full creative control over a shoot. Like an artist with a set of paints, you can spread colors over your subject and scene, mix them together, tint different areas and blend colours at will.

HOW TO CREATE VIBRANT STUDIO PORTRAITS

Tint your subject and backdrop by fitting gels to your light sources

1 LIGHT SOURCE

You can use colour gels on any light source, but flash tends to give the best clarity of colour and light. Studio heads like this are ideal, but you could equally use flashguns. With two or more flashes in the setup, use a wireless trigger and set them to an optical remote so that they all fire simultaneously.

2 BACKDROP

A plain backdrop – such as a wall, a pop-up reflector, a roll of paper, or even a white sheet – will give you a blank canvas on which to project your chosen colours. A neutral grey roll, like the one that we used, is ideal, as it gives greater colour saturation than a simple white backdrop.

3 EDGE LIGHTING

Lighting the subject from the side or from behind will create dramatic edge highlights. This often works best with hard light sources, like the snoot used to the right of the subject here. The snoot has no colour gel, so it lights the face in our main portrait with ‘normal’ balanced light, while the shadows and backdrop are tinted.

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