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DIY Photography with Larry Becker: Gels

[tps_header]When you start learning photography and considering light, the first thing you think about is the amount of light: Not enough light and your images turn out underexposed or loaded with noise because you had to crank the ISO. The second thing you generally consider is the quality of light: Is it big and soft (like a softbox or a cloud) and creating smooth transitions from light to shadow; or is it small, bright, and harsh like the sun or a camera flash unit?

But there’s one more thing that you delve into as you move from beginner to enthusiast or pro: color. The color (temperature) of your light is last on the list because most people learn with their cameras set to auto white balance. Because most cameras do a pretty good job of guessing what white balance should be used, most people don’t think about it until they start to really examine their images closely.

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Compensating for Colors

DIY Photography

In compensating for various colors of light in a scene, the first step is to measure and set a custom white balance; however, in many cases, the real pros and advanced amateurs actually go the extra mile and control the light that’s coming into the scene. They make it the color they want it to be. Most of the time, it’s done with thin sheets of colored plastic, such as semirigid cellophane, that has color in it.

Tip: Orange adds warmth to flashes and helps them mix more convincingly with tungsten light. Blue gels cool off light from flashes and makes them blend better with cool fluorescent lights.

If you have a particular flash unit you want to add colored gels to, you’ve probably looked for a kit to do that and found that these custom kits run $20–30 (and sometimes more). Before you jump in that direction, let’s have a look at some other options.

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