Fun with Flash Gels!

Ever since I received an awesome set of flash gels for Christmas, I have really been enjoying playing around with them and using them for creative lighting.  For those of you who enjoy technical information, there's plenty of that in this post, and for those of you who just want the pictures, there are plenty of those too.

Cookies & Milk Paris Style

In case you're not familiar, flash gels are strips of colored plastic that you attack to the front of your flash.  Sometimes they are used to add color to a white wall, or a splash of color to your subject.  Other times they are used for color correction when shooting in an environment with a different light temperature than a typical flash (boring!  but necessary).  Flash gels can make any wall in your house look like a professional backdrop!

One of the things I like to capture using my flash gels, in conjunction with other flashes, is splashing. With an exposure that would be completely black on its own, my entire photo is lit by flashes.  One of my recent favorites is the photo above, which I achieved by dropping a small potato into a mug with milk in it.  The one below is a similar type of shot, but I managed to knock over the whole glass.  The splash in the knocking over shot wasn't very exciting, so I blended it with another splash.

About to Be Spilled Milk

Not having a ton of things around my house worth photographing, I resorted to shameless gear photography.  I thought the red rings on my lenses went well with a red flash gel.

Red Ring

Milk and Cereal

The shot above is one of my favorites.  I combined three separate shots, one of the in focus cereal, one of the out of focus cereal, and one of the milk.

Kitty in Green (2)

Casey is a natural subject for the flash gels.  When he sees me setting up, he hops right up on the counter and poses.  By the way, if you don't like cat photos, you might want to stop reading!

Kitty in Green (3)

Cameo Self Portrait

Another great use for flash gels is to make a creative silhouette.  This actually took a long time to get right.  I used my 6D's built in wifi to compose and fire the shot from my phone.  I later thought it might be fun to combine it with a photo I took of the Eiffel Tower for a sort of double exposure effect:

Self Portrait Double Exposure

Another use for flash gels is to create a certain mood.  By putting a CTO (color temperature orange) gel on one of the flashes in the shot below, it gives the impression that the photo was taken in late afternoon, when it was really taken around 1PM.

Golden Hour Casey (1)

The series of photos below was lit with just one flash with a CTO gel.

Above is a typical lighting setup for me.  I don't have a fancy studio; this is all done in the kitchen.  The granite countertop makes for a great reflective surface.  Pictured from left to right:  Yongnuo YN-560 III with a blue gel (although it could be any color gel) pointed at the wall, Canon 580EX providing side light or rim light, the subject, Canon 600EX-RT clamped to the counter with a small softbox (sometimes I actually attach it to the camera with the cord that is hanging off the clamp, if I am not pouring or splashing something and can hold onto it), and my camera propped up by some household item.

If I am pouring or splashing something, I generally use my 60D, because I can use the built-in flash to trigger all the flashes wirelessly, which frees up a hand.  I have a remote shutter release in my right hand and whatever I'm pouring or dropping in my left hand.

If I am not pouring or splashing, then I use my 6D, and I hold the 600EX (which then is the master), tethered to the camera by the sync cable.  I actually prefer being able to hold the 600, because it's much easier to move around and maneuver that way when testing for the right angle.

Unfortunately, every shot does not come out perfect:

Sometimes your subject is feeling camera shy.

Sometimes you accidentally move your camera.

Sometimes you knock over your subject and make a huge mess.

And sometimes your splash is just weird looking!

But all that just makes it even more satisfying when you get it right.

I've only cracked the surface when it comes to using flash gels.  Have you ever used them?  In what ways?

Tools Used to Create the Photos in this Post:


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