Using color gels on your flash to dramatically change the look and feel of a scene

I have a portrait shoot with a rare talent coming up in a couple of weeks, so I have been working on building a mood board. To do that, I have been combing the internet and magazines for looks that would fit well for the type of shoot that I have planned. This is not only a source of inspiration, but it also enables a more straightforward creative discussion with the model, stripped off the jargon of photographers. I’m also experimenting with my gear in order to refresh my technique or try new styles for me. That’s when Chopper comes in. Chopper is the most patient and understanding model I have ever known. Even when I waste time trying to figure out my settings rather than shooting, I have never heard Chopper complain. Last but not least, Chopper is always on time too, all I need to do is… open my closet! Ah, what would I do without my Chopper plastic figurine 😉

Anyway, I get Chopper from its closet, and on we go with the topic of the day: using color gels with 2 flashes. This is what the scene looked like without flash:

The shallow depth of field gets rid of the clutter in my living room, but overall a pretty boring result so I decided to give a bit of kick to the scene by using some colored lights. You could go for only one color gel on the rim light for something a bit more interesting (usually something in the orange-red spectrum works well), but since I was experimenting for myself in my living room with a silent model I decided to go all the way and use some color gel on the main light too. As I was going to paint the scene with 2 colors coming from 2 different flash units, the first thing I did was to kill any ambient light by using a faster shutter speed, so that I started from a black canvass so-to-speak. From there, I find that the best way to work is by working on each light separately.

For my rim light, I positioned a flash unit with a pink gel to the side and slightly behind Chopper.

For the main light, I used another flash unit, to the camera right at around a 30º angle to the subject, but this time with a blue color gel. Again, I worked out my settings on this light independently, turning off the rim light.

Finally, once I was happy with the settings on each light, I combined them for the final result. Both flash units were triggered remotely using a commander unit mounted on the camera. Et voilà!

All the images in this article are JPEGs straight out of the camera. The Pink & Blue look is quite popular on social media at the moment (those colors go well together), but most of the images you will see like that on social media are the result of some tweaks of the hue and saturation sliders coupled with split-toning during post-processing. It is a different type of technique.

Anyway, on my end I will continue to play and experiment with lights, and I’m getting super stoked about my upcoming shoot… I hope you enjoyed this article, and I’ll talk to you again soon 😉

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