Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Gel The Light

Early in my career, I assisted numerous studio photographers to learn more about lighting.
By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
Gel The Light
Nikon D3, AF-S
VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-200mm
ƒ/2.8G IF-ED

I often flash the background with deep blue gels, and flash my subject with a subtle orange gel. The warm tone really advances off the blue back-ground and produces a striking effect. Complementary color combinations work well, too. Try red/green, yellow/purple and blue/orange. When complementary colors are side by side, each hue is more vibrant.

Light painting

You don’t need to limit your use of gels to flash. One of my favorite activities when I’m on the road is light painting in my hotel room using my gel swatchbook. I’ll admit my wife thinks I’m a little crazy: “Hello, this is my husband Tom. He hides in his hotel room at night and shines a red flashlight on the walls.”

Nikon D3, AF-S
NIKKOR 14-24mm
ƒ/2.8G ED

But it’s really fun! I use a small Streamlight stylus flashlight ( and shine it through a gel at my subject. Place your camera on a tripod and attach a locking cable release. Set your exposure to “Bulb,” aperture around ƒ/5.6, ISO 200, and focus on your subject. Make sure the room is totally dark, lock open the shutter (using the locking cable release), and pulse the flashlight through different-colored gels onto your subject.

Experiment to see how much light the scene needs; your exposure can range from 30 seconds to several minutes. I often use two or three different colors in a shot. Trust me, this is addictive, and you’ll never leave your hotel room.

The next time you’re thinking about creating an image, don’t forget to include gels in the equation. Sometimes adding a little color is just what a shot needs.

Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. To see more of his photography, visit

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