How to get great and consistent colour with different brands and qualities of light

Jan 19, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to get great and consistent colour with different brands and qualities of light

Jan 19, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One of the biggest issues for those looking to expand their lighting setup is colour consistency. Even expensive ones can be very slightly out from each other. Even within a single brand, different models or generations of light can also be a little different to each other. But the problem is especially so with cheap LED lights, which often have huge colour shifts.

There are ways to work around this, though, and this video from Tony Reale over at Creative Edge shows us how. It does take some experimentation and work, though. But, once you’ve done it, you’ll know exactly how far out from each other each of your lights are. Then you’ll be able to quickly correct those colour shifts in the future before you’ve even turn the lights on.

YouTube video

The basic process is simple. Point your light at a neutral target, and set your camera’s white balance to what the light claims it is. In the case of a daylight balanced LED panel or flash, this is usually 5600K. Then, simply take a shot of the neutral surface lit by your light, and bring it into Photoshop. Once in Photoshop, ramping up the saturation quickly shows you if there is any kind of colour cast to your light.

Once you can see exactly what colour your light is giving off, you can start to counter the effects. In the case of this light, it has a heavy green cast. All you need do to correct for the colour shift is to look at the opposite side of the colour wheel.

The opposite of green is magenta. Magenta gels are also known as “minus green” gels, due to their obvious effect of counteracting green and removing it from your lights. Gel sheets come in a variety of strengths usually ranging from 1/8th to full. Tony prefers to use 1/4 strength gels. This way, he can add just one for a little correction, or stack several together to build up a strong correction, if required.

Once applied to the front of your light, do the above test again. Shoot it against a neutral surface, bring it into Photoshop and ramp up the saturation.

And that’s it. Now you’ve balanced your lights to be as neutral as possible. Cheaper lights still may not be perfect. They’ll still usually have gaps in the visible light spectrum, but this will make them much more useful. And you’re not getting those odd shifts in different parts of your scene if you’re using multiple lights.

Tony has measured all of his lights, and keeps a chart handy, so he knows exactly how far each is from neutral, and what strength & colour of gel to use.

As I mentioned up top, this works with flashes for still photography, too. I’ve noticed that my speedlights from three different brands (Nikon, Yongnuo and Godox) are all a little out from each other. All three are also out from my Bowens strobes & ringflash. Doing the same tests, and correcting with gels works exactly the same with those, too.

You may want to use gels to shift things over to 3200K for tungsten, or even for creative effects. But, get everything neutral before you start to add those on top. That way, no matter what colour you want your lights to be, the strange shifts are gone, and everything is the exact colour you expect it to be.

Have you compared your LED lights or flashes? Have you noticed colour inconsistencies? How do you deal with them? Do you gel the way Tony does? Deal with it in post? Or ignore it and colour be damned? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “How to get great and consistent colour with different brands and qualities of light”

  1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    I’ve done this with all of my LEDs. I’ve got a 1/4 CTO and 1/8 minus green with one of my LEDs so it matches with my others. I’ve also shot grey cards with each of my LEDs as the only light source and saved them in Lightroom so I have a color balance reference handy for each light whenever I’m color correcting.