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 😉

Star Wars BB-8™ Droid by Sphero

I am having some serious hardware problems with my computer, so I have a ton of pictures to edit piling up on memory cards. Unfortunately, it takes several days to have an appointment at the repair station of the Apple Store. 

Meanwhile, I’m having some fun at home with the Star Wars BB-8 Droid by Sphero to help the time go by faster 🙂

Shot taken with my Fuji X-T1, transferred to my iPhone via the Wifi app and slightly edited in Snapseed to add some vignette. This picture was actually taken on the floor of my living room, but, by setting the camera so that I get a pitch black exposure before adding one flash on camera left, I create the illusion that I am shooting against a black background 😉

What to do when tripods are not allowed, but the available light is too low?

Impressionism-7Thanks to the holiday break, I was finally able to go to the Observatory deck on the 40th floor of the World Trade Center tower in Tokyo (closest stations: Daimon and Hamamatsucho). With the clear sky that you can usually only found in Tokyo during winter, I was hoping on getting a nice view on the city with a colorful sunset. Unfortunately, part of my cunning plan fell over when I saw the “no tripod” sign at the entrance of the deck. So here was the question: what to do when shooting a cityscape at dusk, without a tripod?

Impressionism-2Sure, you can give a try to handholding: open your aperture, raise your ISO and/or hold your breath, lean against a wall and focus on your handholding technique… and still get very acceptable/sharp results as long as the light is not too low.

But then, what to do once the scene becomes too dark and there is no trick you can use to replace a good old tripod (like using your bag as a stand and putting your camera on it while your bag keep on falling over and over… yeah, we’ve all been there!)?

Impressionism-8Basically, you are on location, and realize you can’t get the shot you had in mind… But that does not mean you cannot get another shot, completely different from what you were thinking in the first place: use the long shutter speed at your advantage and experiment with panning techniques for example. Or, like I did, try your luck with some abstract/impressionism type of shots: set your shutter speed anywhere slower than 1s, and move your camera in every more or less random directions during the exposure. You know you are doing it right when the people next to you start to look at in a suspicious way, wondering how come you seem to be having so much fun!

Impressionism-9Even completely blurred, landmarks of the city will remain easily recognizable, but seen in an unusual and unique way. Here the Tokyo Tower was turned into the red and white rocket Tintin is using to go to the Moon!

Impressionism-11PS1: if you have a small camera like the Fuji X-E1 I was using that day, you can discreetly use a small tripod by hiding it between the window and your body, and get your shot without anybody noticing anything:

Tokyo by NightPS2: as far as the World Trade Center in Tokyo is concerned, there were actually a lot of people using big tripods without getting any kind of complaint from the Tower staff, despite of the “no tripod” sign

PS3: even in places where the usage of tripods is usually forbidden, you might be granted the permission exceptionally, if you ask for it in advance and in a polite way 😉

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