Fstoppers Lighting Diagram- Using Gels to Enhance Sunsets

Fstoppers Lighting Diagram- Using Gels to Enhance Sunsets

In order to turn a typical sunset into an extraordinary sunset, you are going to do the opposite of counteracting your available light. You do this by picking the colored gel that is the opposite color of the color you want to highlight. Though it may seem like an odd idea, it's actually just simple color theory. The opposite color of magenta is green. By placing a light to medium green gel on your strobe and setting your camera's white balance (WB) to fluorescent, anything that is magenta (such as a sunset) will be pushed even more vibrant.

Some strobes, such as Nikon speedlites, come with an orange and a green gel. These are the most commonly used gels because they are roughly color-balanced to fluorescent and tungsten light, which is how most rooms are lit. Normally when you use gels, you are counteracting the environmental light. For example, if you are in a tungsten-lit room and added a strobe light, the color difference between the room light and the strobes will be very apparent. By adding an orange gel to your speedlite and setting your WB to tungsten, all the light in the room will now be uniform and natural looking.

nick fancher columbus ohio photographer

nick fancher columbus ohio photographer

Screen shot 2013-03-05 at 10.04.26 PM

I'd love to see your experiments with this technique. And it doesn't necessarily need to be this green-to-magenta scenario. Get creative. Make sure to drop links to your photos in the comments and I will post my favorites in the next lighting post. Happy shooting!
Lessons like this one as well as 25 other lighting diagrams are available in my new e-book, RGLR, The Run & Gun Lighting Resource for $10.

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Mike Heiney's picture

Love playing with the gels, thanks for the post...

REPO-DOG - Green Gel and a Halogen Flashlight:
SHELTER DOG! - Tungston WB & CTO Gel after watching a JP Morgan Tut:http://www.flickr.com/photos/heiney/7078396859/

Dan Lubbers's picture

Good info! I use CTO's quite a bit, but haven't purchased any greens. Looks like I'll be trying this out soon...

david d's picture

We shot this with a few layers of 1/8CTO gel over a bare flash in the upper right. I don't recall whether I stacked it up to 1/2 or a full CTO, though.  The ambient is shifted blue but subtle. It probably would have been more dramatic to put a grid over the flash to localize the flash to just the subject...

Christian Horn's picture

Yeah, nice post!
Thought about trying this myself, but didn't manage to up to now...
But this one of my makes a good example of a very dramatic sky with a bare speedlight already making nice tones: http://500px.com/photo/12255589

Further i like the CTO gels to mimic a sunny rim: http://500px.com/photo/25299811 and http://500px.com/photo/14719507

Cheers :)

really like the first shot!

Nathan Hamler's picture

Your 3rd example is a TERRIBLE example....the point is to use a green gel, and then push the magenta in raw (or in camera with WB shift) so the dress is still white!  IT'S GREEN!!! WB is off on the 2nd photo a bit as well....the 1st one looks awesome....

Albert Manduca's picture

what he said.

Also under exposing the ambient by 2 stops pushes up the saturation. Somebody wanted the sepia colored background instead of magenta or blue. Using an 85B filters on the camera with a 10,000K WB,a "Full Blue" or CTB gel on the flash, and 2 stops under on the ambient gave a nice starting point. Test shots were a white post , cars, and crappy gray skies. 

Joe McNally has a sunset he did with a 40 CC FL-D filter on the camera and a Window Green on the flash.

Lukas Gisbert-Mora's picture

A bit over the top when it comes to color in those examples, I can see this working well with very light colored gel so you still keep the real sunset colors.

OK, I'm no pro, but the 2nd picture (with the couple holding hands) is terrible! The center of the picture is bright, but the corners are very dark (something like a falloff) - if that was the intention, then it's plain cheesy. The 3rd picture's WB is also way off: the wedding dress is green!?! 

Jesse Longmire's picture

The White Balance on the 3rd pic is terrible. I would assume one would have to be careful using gelled speedlights around a bright white dress. The 1st one is really good though. 

Gelled 1 full cto and a 1/4 cto on main light, and set WB to tungsten, that gave me blue light from windows and blue light from a bare strobe behind subject. This was part of my experiment if I could replicate Joe Mcnally's bar shoot.

Rachel Edgington's picture

@facebook-1491861002:disqus ove that shot

Ken Yee's picture

That magenta sky doesn't look like most sunsets I've seen...just wayyyy too purple...

Matthew Lord's picture

I shot this "Portrait of a Chemist" using a couple of 1/8 CTB gels (one behind the model & one to camera right).

The reason why they appear soooo very blue in the shot is because the colour & intensity of light from the flask varied quite a lot during the 20 seconds of the reaction & I had to start off with a "best guess" WB then adjust later in LR. It was only because the chemist knew *exactly* what the colour of the light in the flask should be that I was able to match it & also compliment it with the right coloured gels.