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How to Use Gels

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Feb 14

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Change Up Your Lights

Its very easy to mess up an image by using a gel too directly and by using too many colors. This episode covers how to use them in a subtle way to change the overall mood of your photos and which lighting works best.

Pick up our own pack of gels HERE


  • 0:00- Ferdinand Magellan
  • 0:30- Explanation of gels and how to use them
  • 2:00- Gel grades
  • 3:15- Light setup
  • 4:10- Using full power with orange gel
  • 4:30- Using complimentary colors
  • 5:20- Softbox lighting
  • 6:20- Let us know if you have any examples!

How to Choose Colors

Complimentary colors always work well together. Try using a warm and cool combination when choosing which gels you want to use, and combining them in a way that makes sense. Colors are much easier to get right by using a color wheel and planning out your final image before you start.  You can also try placing the warmer tones in the foreground and cooler in the back, or vice versa.

  • janiecakes

    Thanks for the tips about combining warm and cool colors and using the color wheel.  I’m going to give it a whirl soon.

  • Gonçalo Motta

    I’ve never used them. I have a slight problem having to compromise before PP. I really like to have my options open so I can have a better creative window on my post production. However, I think the trick is you still want your highlights to be white or pretty close to that. So what I’d do is only using gels as complementary lights for mood, and not to lighten up something or someone.

  • Matt Goslee

    I have always loved how justin price uses his gels as you can see here

  • Alfonso Barona

    Hey Aaron!!I know some photographers that use gels and i really like it!!
    +First one is a Spanish photographer called Javier Vallhonrat! I cant find any photo with gels now but i saw in the past some cool pics of him using hells…anyway you can see some of his pics here: one, who inspired me when I was studying photography was Mario sorrenti! With his calendar Vogue 2010: actually I tried to do something similar…and here is the result!!Let me know what you think!

  • Kyle Miller

    I rarely use gels.  But when i do, its mainly for a splash background light. I use them for sports portraits.  

    I also found a cool replacement for Gels if you need some color right away and cant get Gels.  Cheap plastic cups!! (they will melt a little if you leave the modeling light on, but still work great!)  I have them in every color and shape, and they all work excellent!  

  • Epiphany_media

    Gels are super easy to use first of all…They are best utilized when you desire to produce a dynamic color behind the model on a background or apply the gel to a model to create artistic effect. I use either a black backdrop to intensify the color, Ive shot gels against brick and other surfaces at night, and it really looks amazing shot on corrugated metal turned on its side. Contrasts work best but often I will match a color to the models clothing say like red on red and so on. Gel holders with barn doors for my studio lights…Interfit strobies with gels for speedlights and Rogue gels for speedlights. What you are presenting is more like an entry level tutorial. I also find woolin and pwl fun to dabble with and hope to do some EL wire soon.

    Here are some early shots…


  • Epiphany_media

    To get the best effects from gels when used on backgrounds you must have the subject no closer than 8 feet from background with the gelled light placed behind the subject. Snoots as well as purpose built shapes cut into black paper placed over the gel make for more interesting photos. You also must flag or position any front/side lighting so that it’s light will not fall on the background.

  • Sean

    Thanks for the episodes you keep pushing out Aaron!
    I really like the effect that Dustin Diaz gets from gelling his strobes.  The combination of gelling his main light and changing the camera colour temp to 2,800K or there abouts, gives a great colour of the background lights, as well as a cool colur of the bare rim lights.

    An example here, with a link to his setup as well.

  • trmartin

    Great episode! But I’d like to make a request; could you expand on it and go down the path of temperature matching with ambient light.. Honestly the only time I ever use my gels is to balance my strobe light with the ambient light wether it’s florescent lighting or tungsten… And to be honest I don’t always get it balanced correctly and have to do some photoshop touch ups. Thanks again for the great tutorials..

  • Nathan Dunn

    I’ve pretty much only used them as background splash colors like this:

    or to mimic sunset like this:

    not sure why the thumbnails don’t work :

  • Ronen Segers

    You can use one gel on your subject and then compensate your white balance for it so your entire background will have a complementary colour of your used gel and your subject will look neutral. This was a trick tip I learned from one of Joe Mcnally’s videos. Like this it’s easy to give a mood to your scene without touching your subject.

  • Yo Mama

    You should sing and whistle on Phlearn more often!

  • Sebastian Ortiz

    Very good… and No, Gels were not named after “Magellan” :)

  • Alan

    Is this some kind of sick joke? Some gels are orange, some are green. What they do? They change the colors. Wow.. that’s about it. Fucking time waster. If you’ve got nothing to say I suggest you simply shut your face.

  • Ett Venter

    3:48 was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Watching this video was worth it even JUST for that moment.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll have to try the cup trick sometime!

  • Anonymous

     umm… gels or girls?

  • kevin deibert

    that would be cto gel with a tungsten WB.  the tungsten WB will make the scene blue while the WB will appear white.

  • Jay

    What I find really interesting about Dustin is to go back in his early flickr stream to 2007 and forward through and watch his photography evolve…very cool!

  • Bobbyhaws

    Wow Alan you are about an ass, how about you shut your face instead,and keep it professional no one wants to read your profanity.

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