Gradients Help You Fake the Look of Colored Lighting Gels in Photoshop

Colored lighting gels can take the illumination in your images from standard to outstanding by adding color for a touch of interest and depth. And while nothing can create that look quite like the real thing, you can fake an interesting colored gel effect for your images using some simple tricks in Photoshop.

If you've ever worked with colored gels in your photography lighting, you know what kind of impact they can have on an image. Those little touches of color can add a simple cinematic touch or an all-out jolt of vibrance to your photograph. And learning to use gels really well in your photography can be super beneficial, because you're learning both color theory and lighting techniques.

But what if you didn't use gels in your image, and you discover that you want to add that pop of color later on? That's where this video comes in handy. In it, Nathaniel Dodson from Tutvid walks us through a simple way to add a dramatic colored gel effect to an image through the magic of Photoshop. With the application of some simple gradients, you can create a look super similar to gelled lighting. Include a few adjustment layers and you'll have the control you need to tweak the color and contrast and create a very realistic look. You can also use these tips to enhance existing gelled lighting that didn't quite pop enough color into your image.

Nathan’s final image here is dramatically different than his beginning photo, which shows you just how far you can go with this technique. I tried it myself, experimenting with blend modes on the gradients, and found that you can achieve a much more subtle effect by trying different blend modes. Overlay was my favorite for a softer touch.

Whether you want to add subtly hued touches, or big, dramatic blasts of color, the processes in this video are sure to make your images come alive. Enjoy!

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9 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

easy to use real thing this look fake!

Rob Waller's picture

Yep, just looks fake.

Sorry, I also have to say it doesn't look like real gels. The way light interacts with a subject and the way a bunch of gradients layered on top of an image looks is completely different.

This ends up being an overly complicated Instagram filter and given gels are incredibly cheap - you can even just buy some coloured cellophane & rubber bands - I don't understand why you'd resort to this.

Tim Gallo's picture

lol. really, fstoppers need to curate there content better.
there is a better tool (less hassle) graduated filter in camera raw... that has some potential to look like color gels, and in some ways it can even fake one.

SHIBU GEORGE's picture

Absolutely, some of their contents totally laughable.

"Fake" being the key word...

Percy Ortiz's picture

i think this "tutorial" would've been more effective if he actually used an image that would've benefit from this so called technique. As it is this guy just ruined a perfectly fine portrait :( not to mention there are far better and more natural way to try mimic the gelled effect

This is an interesting technique but split tone would be much quicker to create the same effect.