Are You Gellin’?
Gels and moody lighting go together like a wink and a smile. Even better, flash gels are one of the cheapest, yet most powerful and valuable items that you’ll put in your camera case. Nowadays, you can get a pocket-sized pack of over 50 different-colored gels to accompany your flash for under $20. At 1.5 by 3 inches, these tiny pieces of nylon sure pack a wallop. That’s because gels can do more than just colorize an accent light. If used on a main light, they allow you to change the white balance in your camera, thus allowing you to control your entire scene (more on that in Chapter 20).
The more light you pump through a gel, the more washed out the color will be, so keep your output lower for a nice rich hue. Figure 11.11 is a fashion shot I did with Sebastian. I liked his tailored suit and wanted to capture it in a number of different ways, to see which I preferred. I shot it with direct light on a white background, subtle lighting on a black background, and as you can see here, with an accent color on a white background. Figure 11.11 ended up being my favorite take on the subject. Although the background was lit, I positioned Sebastian about 6 feet away from it, which was far enough in front of it that his body went into shadow. I lit him with a red-gelled flash with a grid on it to constrain the light. The red face, paired with a silhouetted body, gave him a nice ominous mystique.
Figure 11.11 Gels are small but extremely effective. For instance, the red gel in this image provides an accent color and adds an ominous mood to the fashion shot.
Gels are also effective at changing silhouetted color. I own a variety of colored backdrop rolls, but my options are much greater when paired with the use of a gel. Combine a red gel with a yellow background, for example, and you get a beautiful, rich tangerine color. Pair a red gel with a blue background and you get purple. A red gel on a white or gray background can vary from red to pink, depending on how high the output is on the flash (lower output is more red, higher output is more pink). Figure 11.12 is a red gel on a white background. The main light was a gridded flash to the right of the model, which created the spotlight on the model and backdrop. The red-gelled background light was on the floor to the left of the model, aimed at the backdrop, with a piece of cardboard next to it to flag the light off of the model. The crisscrossed lights along with the gel created the trippy double shadow, giving the image a ‘60s vibe, which was the direction for the shoot.
Figure 11.12 Gels are great for changing your background. The red gel in this shot changed the backdrop to a bright pink color.
You can also shift a colored backdrop to a totally different color. If you aren’t familiar with color theory, do a quick Internet search for subtractive color mixing to see what will happen when you mix one colored gel with a different colored background. In Figure 11.13, you can see what happens when you use a red-gelled flash on a blue background: You get a beautiful shade of fuschia. Now go out and get crazy with it!
Figure 11.13 A red gel on a blue background creates a beautiful fuschia.