Using gels to correct your flashes to match the ambient, or as creative effects is common. It’s something many of us do from time to time. Sometimes we use creative gels want that cool colour contrast. At other times we just have to deal with really horrible lighting and need to compensate with corrective gels. But, corrective gels can also be used creatively.
Japan based Photographer, Ilko Alexandroff regularly brings orange CTO gels along with him to his night shoots. They allow him to get a little more creative with the harsh sodium glow of the background while still getting perfect colour on his subject. In this video he talks us through how and why.
The problem with night time scenes is that the light contained within them is very different to the light we see in the daytime. The number of incandescent, sodium vapour and other lights illuminating our environments at night is much warmer. If we shoot our cameras at 5600K white balance this can send the background a very muddy orange/brown.
Our eyes naturally seem to be attracted to warmer looking subjects, so this orange brown background can become quite distracting, especially when it’s mostly shadow. So, Ilko’s solution is a simple two step process.
- Shift your camera’s white balance over to Incandescent/Tungsten.
- Put a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gel over your main light source.
Changing your white balance to incandescent will send everything cooler, and introduce a little more variance in the colour of your background. Grass will start to look a little greener, greys will become closer to neutral and even start pushing towards blue. Of course, it sends your daylight balanced light source way off, making your subject very blue.
Adding the CTO gel over your light now brings your subject back to a normal colour.
It’s not just for use with city backgrounds, though. The same technique can be used when shooting night portraits out in the wilderness, too. It brings a more natural colour back to the ground, and sends skies a beautiful shade of blue.
It’s a great technique, which you can also use for other effects. Used in the daylight, for example, it can send the environment very blue. I’ve used this strategy in the past to shoot photos in the middle of the day that look like they were created at night with an environment lit by moonlight, rather than the sun.
Joe McNally also mentions in his book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, how he uses a similar technique with window green gels and a Fluorescent white balance for shooting sunset portraits to get beautiful purple skies. Although traditional fluorescent lights are becoming less common in offices and other buildings these days, it can still help to produce some great colour in city backgrounds for portraits, too.
Have you used this technique? In what other scenarios have you used corrective gels for creative purposes? Let us know in the comments.