How To Use Gels To Take Your Portraiture To the Next Level

Adding vibrant colors to your portraits with gels is something every photographer ought to know how to do, but more than that, it can create some truly stunning results.

When I first started using flashes, I didn't really understand gels. It's not that I didn't know how they worked or what they did, I just didn't like the results. I tried it a couple of times and I found the colors to be washed out, and I had lost control over the general tonality of my image. As I progressed, the years rolled by, and I started to understand more about the use and manipulation of light, they became crucial to how I work.

A magazine shoot at the start of this year, before the pandemic (what a time that was,) I had decided I needed to do something special to get anything out of some testing conditions. I had an hour with my subject, no assistants, and I was given a meeting room to conduct the shoot. I can tell you now with absolute certainty, had I not used gels, the images would have been so bland I doubt I'd have ever published them. Instead, the results were exactly what I wanted and ended up being printed in a multi-page spread. It's important to remember that you're not limited to red and blue, or orange and teal, and you can just use one color to strong effect too.

Do you use gels? Show us your favorite image using them.

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1 Comment

BubbA Gumphy's picture

Reminds me of the work and lessons the late Dean Collins was teaching us in the 1980s and 90s. Which just goes to show that good ideas - and sometimes even bad ones, like selective color - get resurrected every generation or so. In my studios we regularly used gels to change background colors, using his system for "Chromazones." For more examples of how photographers were using gels back then see if you can find copies of the annual "American Showcase - Photography" publications from that era. Just be prepared for a lot of gelled hair, huge shoulder padding, and those M.C. Hammer pants. LOL

This brought back some great memories.