How to fake that gelled split lighting look in Photoshop

Jul 3, 2021

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 fake that gelled split lighting look in Photoshop

Jul 3, 2021

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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Using multiple differently coloured gels to light your subject and their environment has become a very popular subject over the last few years – and I’m totally not blaming Jake Hicks – but it’s not always possible to easily do in the studio. Perhaps you don’t have the colours of gel that you need. Or maybe there’s just too much colour spill to effectively get what you’re after.

It is possible to simulate the look of using coloured gels in post, though, thanks to Photoshop. And in this video, Unmesh at PiXimperfect shows us how. There are several ways you can do this, but the method Unmesh shows in the video is very effective and covers a bunch of different techniques that you can apply to a lot of other tasks, too.

The process Unmesh describes in the video starts off by cutting the subject out from its background and then creating two layers of colour using gradient map adjustment layers – one for each of the two gels you wish to simulate. Then the colours are “carved” out using layer masks in order to make the light from different light sources appear in those different colours.

But he doesn’t stop there, showing several techniques to add some nice intense edge highlights and skin highlights that would better simulate the colour intensity differences you’d see in the real world if you were really using gels on your lights.

Overall, an interesting and effective technique. You’re obviously going to get the most realistic results by actually shooting it in-camera with gelled lights. But maybe you didn’t know if you wanted to gel it or not? Or perhaps you didn’t even think about gelling it until after you’d taken the shots and gotten back home to see them big on the computer screen.

Whatever the reason, now you know how to do it after the fact, just in case you need it.

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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 fake that gelled split lighting look in Photoshop”

  1. Jake Hicks Photography Avatar
    Jake Hicks Photography

    Haha this is not the first time this week my name has been taken in vain thanks to this technique. I’ll be honest, when I was first sent this link, I was rolling my eyes that someone had somehow made a one-click action to re-produce gels in Photoshop. Sadly, for many people this is far from the case. As always Unmesh masterfully makes this look unbearably easy, but in reality there is a lot of steps to this and you need to have a good grasp of how the light would react as it would with gels on the day to make it look this good. It’s yet another great little technique to have under your belt from Unmesh, but I can’t help but think that it’s still a damned site easier and faster to just shoot this in-camera on the day if that’s the look you want. Definitely worth a play though and if you like the look, I’m sure you’ll want to shoot it ‘properly’ before too long ;)