How to properly use gels to colour photos/films

Colour and visual tone are very important when one is shooting a film or photograph. Many times we find ourselves choosing the same lighting set up and will often get stuck in a repetition. In cases where images looks dull and colourless, gel kits become handy tools to correct colour and liven images up. A standard gel kit will come with 20 different sheets – a few specifically for colour correcting and the rest, a range of colours.

This photo shows the different effects of each colour.

In order to successfully use the gels, they have to be placed on specific lights with a precise strength (hard/soft). Although gels have been around for quite some time, people tend to forget the magic they can produce for an image’s entirety.

A lighting set up using a light Cyan Gel, direct flash and a soft box with a Magenta Gel.

The combinations become endless when mixing and matching different gels and techniques together. The possibilities become endless too when using different equipment – you can mix strobes and flashes, try various light modifiers, use soft boxes and reflectors to bounce of specific colours. Another way one can experiment with gels is using different shutter speeds to create traces of color. For example the following photo slowed down its shutter speed to create this specific look:

 

Colour gels also come in handy when trying to create surreal looks that resemble fantasy. Instead of relying on effects done in post, adding gels to the set can create more natural occurring colour.

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In any case on a set shoot, having gels in sight is always a good idea, aside from colour correcting an image, gels can help to add life to dull visuals.  The kits themselves usually range from $75 – $100 but separately come to no more than $6 each, depending on quality and colour.