Using Gels to Enhance Your Portrait Photography


Using Gels to Enhance Your Portrait Photography with Angela Marklew

Simply defined, gels are transparent colored material used to modify lights for Portrait Photography (both stills and motion). Gels are placed over light sources to create colored effects. The two basic types are color correction gels and non-corrective (color effect) gels.

Color correction gels have specific color to compensate for either daylight or tungsten sources.

Color temperature blue (CTB) converts tungsten light to “daylight” color and color temperature orange (CTO) converts daylight balanced sources to tungsten. These gels are generally used when shooting a scene with multiple light sources of varying color temperatures and you need to compensate for the mixed lighting—with the ultimate goal being to create light that the camera will see as white.

Non-corrective (or color effect) gels are used to color the light intentionally to create mood, atmosphere or dramatic conditions in a photo. In this case, combinations of various colors are used either subtly or dramatically to create customized light conditions.

In this article, we’ll be talking about the use of color effect gels for Portrait photographers.

Before you start throwing gels on all your lights and hoping for the best, it helps to have some basic knowledge of color theory. 

In general, complementary colors (those that are opposite each other on the color wheel) will usually create the most visually pleasing combinations. However, I find that as long as there is some contrast between the colors, I can achieve aesthetically pleasing results. Colors next to each other on the wheel can start to bleed into one another.

Now it’s time to bust out the gels and experiment! 

To get you started, here are the basic necessities, along with a handful of my go-to setups.

Basic Equipment

  • Strobes. Continuous lights will also work, but they can get hot, which can melt the gels.
  • Colored gels. You can get proper photography gels (I personally use a set of Rosco 12-inch colored gels) or you can use colored cellophane (found at any craft store).
  • Gaffer’s tape to attach the gels to your lights.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the July 2021 magazine.

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