Flash gels play several important roles in photography. Gels can convert the colour temperature of your flash, helping you balance your flash’s output with any ambient light sources. Gels can reduce light output without impacting colour for times when even a low-power flash setting may be a bit too much for your subject or environment.
Gels can diffuse light (i.e. make it softer) or add a dash of colourful for creative effects to your scene, like dousing colour across a subject’s face or changing the colour of a grey background to purple.
There are an overwhelming variety of gels from various manufacturers in different cuts (strengths) together with a wide array of colours, resulting in an abundance of ways to gell your flash.
If you are new to using gels and there uses, I think following information will is a good starting point.
ND GELS Cut down on the amount of light emitted by your flash without changing colour temperature.
Great for: Subjects in dimly-lit areas when shooting with a wide-open aperture where even the lowest power flash setting might be too bright.
DIFFUSION GELS As the name suggests, diffusion gels take the concentrated burst of your flash and soften/spread it out. You can purchase diffusers based on light loss, measured in stops. Diffusers won’t typically be coloured, though some vendors sell diffusion gels that have slight colour casts to complement skin tones. Great for: Anything (even faces) with shiny surfaces that may produce glare. A wide-angle diffusion gel is also useful to push light out to the corners of your frame if you need more coverage.
CORRECTION GELS (PLUS GREEN, CTO, CTS, CTB) Corrective gels are sold in varying strengths measured in fractions, with full strength typically indicated with a “full” in the product name. You can add gels together to boost their strength, so if your ½ gel isn’t cutting it, you can add a ¼ on top of it and the combined ¾ could do the trick.
COLORED GELS Available in nearly every colour of the rainbow, these gels will transform your flash’s output into their colour. Most gel manufacturers make starter kits that bundle a selection of corrective gels and a few coloured gels; they’re an ideal place to start if you haven’t already stocked up. With coloured gels, there are no hard-and-fast rules. You’re free to experiment with their effects to your heart’s content. Or until your flash battery dies. Great for: Creative effects and adding more drama to your image.
CTO (COLOR TEMPERATURE ORANGE) Converts your flash’s daylight output to a warmer tungsten. Great for: Balancing ambient tungsten lights. It can also be used creatively to create a warm vibe to your photo.
CTS (COLOR TEMPERATURE STRAW, OR OFTEN JUST “STRAW”) Similar to a standard CTO gel but with a more yellowish hue. Great for: A nice alternative to standard CTO gels if those are giving your subject too much of an orange tint. Straw gels are ideal for warming skin tones.
PLUS GREEN Balances your flash output to match fluorescent lighting, which gives off a green cast.
Great for: Shooting in spaces with fluorescent lights. Note: The colour temperature of fluorescents continues to change so they’ll no longer throw out a putrid green cast on your subject. Best to first take a few test shots without a plus green gel under fluorescent lighting.
CTB (COLOR TEMPERATURE BLUE) Converts tungsten light to daylight, the opposite of a CTO gel. Great for: Creating a cooler, bluer tone to your image and corrects for tungsten ambient sources.
The Coronavirus is having an effect on everyone and everything so lots of people are finding themselves with more time on their hands, which could be a good or bad thing depending on one’s financial circumstances. Before the Covid19 crisis, distance and travel were not an issue, it is perhaps only now that we are missing the ability to where and when we desire. I personally am trying to keep my photographic brain active even if we are confined to our local area, although this has led to Fran & I discovering some beautiful local Green Lanes and making the most of our one form of exercise a day. I don’t always take a camera with me on these little escapes from the house, but I decided to revisit one of Green Lane we have discovered and take a flash, a Magbounce and a very small and portable light stand on the walk and take a few images whilst out walking keeping kit lighting kit as portable and light as possible. As my main focus of photography work is equestrian and lifestyle photography, I mainly use C Stands for my lighting, so keeping kit light and ultra-portable is not so important. I think the last wedding we photographed was about three years ago and used to bounce flash and or use a reflector. We had a wedding booked for July, but since the lockdown, this has now been cancelled. However, I had planned on using some very portable lighting kit during the wedding (Magbounce & Magsphere) as wedding are fast paced small and light becomes a priority. I have had some Magmod kit for a few years now and to be honest it rarely gets used, but I have never owned or used the Magbounce, so decided to give it a try prior to the wedding we did have booked before it was cancelled. I purchased the Magbounce just before the Coronavirus pandemic, as my intention was to spend the spring and early summer playing around with it and see what was possible with it, yes you can bounce light off of walls and ceilings, but I was curious as to what the Magbounce could do where there were no wall or ceilings, it was the portability that really appealed to me. As far a testing out the Magbounce out fully, it’s still early days, but for a really small portable lighting mod, so far, it’s growing on me. Will the Magbounce replace the lighting mods I use for equine and lifestyle off camera flash? No, it won’t, but I do intend on trying out some new ideas and for locations where there are no walls or ceilings and I want ultra-portability, this little lighting mod does have a lot of potential.
What will help you improve your flash photography?
If you type that very sentance into Google, the first thing that will no doubt be at the top of the page will be:
• Bounce the Light. • Diffuse Your Flash. • Make Use of Ambient Light. • Use Coloured Flash Gels. • Use TTL Technology. • Enable High-Speed Flash Sync. • Use More Than One Flash.
I think the first YouTube video is about bouncing light? Although Youtube’s videos are free, sifting through them to separate the good, from the bad and the commissioned can be a bit of a laborious task. What about books, which ones are worth reading? When it comes to books on lighting it can be just like YouTube, there are just so many on the subject of lighting.
So, which books will really help you improve your flash photography? The simple answer is if you rely on reading alone, none of them on their own. However, the old school book is still a good option combined with practice and watching videos. Personally, I don’t think anyone ever truly “masters” photographic lighting and although there are some very well know names out there that create incredible images using flash and make it look simple, even their photographic lighting technique continues to evolve.
Due to Covid 19, like most people I am stuck at home, so I thought I would share five of the books on lighting that either inspired me or taught me something about lighting. I think they are all fairly easy to read and understand and explain techniques very well. I am also using this lockdown time to play experiment, make mistakes with my lighting and try to improve it.
The below books are available as either eBook’s or PDF’s so as long as the internet continues working through the social distancing policy, you will be able to access them without the risk of spreading Covid 19.
Soft, shadowless light has become the general direction that a lot of portrait photographers take, attaching fast lenses to their cameras, opening up the aperture as wide as their lenses will go, in order to blur everything behind the subject and I have been just as guilty of this technique myself.
I recently I watched Damien Lovegrove’s Lumen video that makes use of Godox Equipment and in particular, hard light. What really grabbed my attention apart from his images, was the limited amount of gear he used to produce images with so much impact, which got me thinking about embracing hard light, rather than steering clear of it.
I have been using Godox equipment with various softboxes and umbrellas for location shoots for just over three years now and although I am far from being a master of lighting, I am always looking to develop new skills and ideas in relation to lighting.
This weekend I decided to experiment with the Godox kit that I have and see what I could produce using hard light instead of using the light modifiers I normally use, so kindly Fran agreed to leaving her camera in her bag, so that I could experiment with hard light on her and stand around whilst I moved a light stand from one location to the next.
Godox AD200 with 5″ reflector
For much of the Lumen video, Damien uses 2 lights and two light stands, he does use a few lighting modifiers, but for the majority of the shoots that he walks through, he is using either 5” or 7” reflectors, so his kit is minimal. Apart from uniqueness of the hard-light images Damien produces, what really appeals to me is the simplicity and the reduction of the amount equipment he uses. Lighting modifier’s all have to be packed and carried to locations, so the idea of creating more edgy images with limited kit, is really appealing for numerous reasons. I also thought that learning to make use of hard light will also enable me to offer something different from my current equine work.
I am used to scouting out interesting backgrounds for horse portraits where I can make use of a shallow depth of field, but I decided to set myself a challenge, not to blur out backgrounds, so from the outset I would doing something different. Damien takes no longer than 10 minuets for the placement of his lights to create dramatic location portraits, which is down to a combination of his experience, knowledge and skills, but also his creativeness as a very talented photographer. However, it took me a little longer, “but hey, we all have to start somewhere in terms of learning”.
I think the first thing I experienced and learned is that the placement of your lighting with hard light is more critical than when I have used larger modifier’s and made use softer light. As I was not intending to blur the backgrounds, I thought I would try using different focal lengths and apertures to my normal 135mm to 200mm at f/2 to f/2.8, so the next thing I started noticing were textures and shadows, which I had up until experimenting with hard light overlooked.
There are numerous resources on the web that talk about soft and hard light, but when you start exploring and playing with soft and hard light, you start noticing many differences that you may have overlooked or even be aware of. By exploring and embracing the differences of hard and soft light, it is enabling me to further develop a better understanding of light and how it can be applied to create different types and styles of images. Playing with hard-light is rewarding and enjoyable no matter how many mistakes I make and I intend to keep practicing and learning.
Personally I think the Lumen video by Damien Lovegrove and his team provides more than just a look at how he creates images using hard light, it gets you to think about trying and doing things differently with light, and that’s what good education should do, inspire you to learn and try new things.
You can find out more about Damien Lovegrove and his training videos via the link below.
Despite the advances in technology you cannot learn everything online. We think we have a unique way to develop new skills in relation to off camera flash, so If you feel that your photography skills or creative expression have hit a wall, why not join us on a Get Out & Learn Workshop and try photographing Red Squirrels with flash?
Due to the location and uniqueness of photographing Red Squirrels with flash, I only facilitate this workshop with a maximum of two people. I have two meet up locations: Hawes & Ribble Head. The duration of the workshop is a maximum of three hours and the cost is £40 per person.
When it comes to lighting modifiers, don’t be fooled by the hype, the quality of the materials are important, but the brand name will not make the light quality superior or transform you into Annie Leibovitz. However as Annie Leibovitz knows how to light, she could use any modifier to create a good image regardless of it’s brand name.
I have purchased various lighting modifiers over the years and think I have found one of the most versatile lighting modifiers I have ever seen and used, what is it? A HWAMART ® EOS100B 100cm 39″ Easy Open Silver Soft Umbrella Softbox.
For my uses a modifier above “39 for outdoor use becomes an issue if there is a breeze and anything smaller than “39 is just a tad too small in relation to size, distance and light quality. However, this conclusion has resulted after experience of photographing Horse Portraits outdoors, whilst trying to keep kit portable, packable and of good quality.
The HWAMART ® EOS100B provides the sweet spot in terms of the quality of light it produces in relation to its size, quality and price. The softbox is built around an innovative and integrated spring-loaded rod system that quickly snaps into place. There is also Included is a detachable beauty dish deflector as well as two levels of removable diffusion panels and a honeycomb grid. With these options you have many different ways to achieve different lighting for most situations.
What is the build quality like? Is it as good as Westcott? I guess time will tell, but for the price it is very close and far better than most of the gear coming out of China.
If you are getting into lighting and are looking for your first light modifier, the HWAMART ® EOS100B is worth considering, if I had the choice of only having one lighting mod, this would be it. Price wise it’s in the middle, the price tag is neither low or high and from my experience, this price point provides quality without paying for the name and unlike most of the cheap kit from china, it will last if you take care of it. Moreover, learn to use one light properly and you can achieve some great images, spending a fortune on kit won’t provide any short cuts, you have to put in the effort and practice.