Discover The Magic of Using Gelled Lights in Your Photography

Gelled lights have revolutionized the world of professional photography, offering creative ways to enhance images by manipulating light colors. Photographers can achieve stunning results using various gel types and colors that convey their work’s mood, depth, and texture.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the world of gelled lights – exploring their fundamentals and applications in videography and photography.  Sharing these tips will help you unlock your artistic potential.

Key Takeaways

  • Gelled lights are transparent colored materials used by photographers and videographers to alter the color temperature of lighting and create unique effects in their work.
  • There are six fundamental techniques for gelled lighting, including color temperature controlmood enhancementcreative color mixingspecial effects creation, diffusion and softening, and color correction.
  • Lighting gels come in various types and colors, such as color correction gels, diffusion gels, and color effects gels. They have many applications in photography and videography, from enhancing mood and atmosphere to creating artistic effects while allowing greater creativity through experimenting with different combinations.
  • Using gelled lights has several advantages, including cost-effectiveness compared to buying expensive equipment to achieve similar results.
  •  Gels offer versatility as they enable the manipulation of light colors at will.

Understanding Gelled Lights

These diffusers can alter the color temperature and add various colors to the light, enabling photographers and videographers to create unique and artistic effects.

Photo by Gordon Cowie

Definition And Function

Gelled lights, or lighting gels or simply gels, are thin sheets of transparent colored material that photographers and videographers place over light sources to modify the emitted light’s color temperature.

The primary function of these versatile gels is to change the appearance of a scene by creatively adjusting the illumination and adding depth and texture.

For instance, photographer Jake Hicks has revolutionized gel usage in contemporary photography with his unique techniques and approach. Artists like Hicks have pioneered ways to use these versatile tools when capturing images that captivate audiences by utilizing specific color combinations through various gel styles- including diffusion, correction, and creative color gels.

The Fundamentals Of Gelled Lighting

Understanding the fundamentals of gelled lighting can significantly improve your photography skills, especially when creating dynamic and eye-catching images. Professional photographers should familiarize themselves with these techniques:

  1. Color Temperature Control: Utilize color gels to alter the color temperature of your light source, allowing you to match or contrast different light sources in your scene.
  2. Mood and Atmosphere Enhancement: Select specific gel colors to evoke a particular emotion or atmosphere in your images, such as using warm tones for a cozy feel or cool tones for a dramatic effect.
  3. Creative Color Mixing: Combine multiple gels on one light source or use different colored gels on separate lights, resulting in intriguing color blends and unique visual effects.
  4. Special Effects: Implement gels to create various special effects, including simulating sunsets, moonlight, or even abstract artistic elements that can amplify the overall aesthetic of your image.
  5. Diffusion and Softening: Incorporate diffusion gels to soften and evenly distribute harsh light sources, creating a more flattering illumination on your subject.
  6. Color Correction: Utilize color-correction gels to balance out inconsistent or undesirable color temperatures between multiple light sources in your scene, ensuring accurate and natural-looking colors in your final image.

Types Of Gels Used in Photography And Their Colors

Here’s a breakdown of popular lighting gel types and their corresponding colors:

Type of GelColorUsage
Color Correction GelsCTB (Color Temperature Blue), CTO (Color Temperature Orange), etc.Used to adjust the color temperature of a light source, such as matching tungsten lights to daylight or vice versa. Gel lighting or colored gels can add different colors to the light source, creating various colors. Lighting gels are used in theatre and film productions to achieve specific lighting effects.
Diffusion GelsWhite, FrostedSoften and scatter light using gel lighting to create a more even and flattering effect on the subject. Incorporating colored or transparent color correction gels can enhance the overall lighting quality.
Color Effects GelsRed, Blue, Green, Yellow, etc.Add colors to a scene, create a specific mood, or enhance the overall atmosphere by using colored gels on the main light.
Color Conversion GelsGreen, MagentaUsed to convert the color of a light source to match another source, such as fluorescent or LED lights, using lighting gel or filters to adjust the colors of gel lighting.
Neutral Density (ND) GelsGrayReduce light intensity using lighting gel or filters without affecting color temperature or quality. Using gel filters can help adjust the colors of the light while maintaining its original quality.
UV and Infrared (IR) Blocking GelsClearBlock unwanted ultraviolet and infrared radiation, protecting your subjects and reducing flare in images using transparent color correction light sheets, filters, and lighting gel on your main light.

Understanding the types of lighting gels and their colors allows professional photographers to make more informed decisions when selecting gels, resulting in striking and memorable images.

Applications In Photography And Videography

Lighting gels have many applications in photography and videography, making them an essential tool for professional photographers.

They create an image’s mood or atmosphere, adding depth and texture to the lighting. For example, color gels combined with natural light sources create unique effects not achieved through white light alone.

Gelled lighting can also be used for color correction or color grading. By using colored gels over lights during shooting, you can achieve dramatic results without needing post-production editing.

For instance, if your subject’s skin tone appears warmer than it is naturally, you may add orange gel on the key light while keeping the fill light neutral white or gray.

Advantages Of Using Gelled Light for Photography

Utilizing gelled lights has several advantages, including enhancing mood and atmosphere, creating unique artistic effectsincreasing creativity and individuality in your work, manipulating and controlling light colors, and adding depth and texture to lighting.

Enhancing Mood And Atmosphere

One of the most significant advantages of using gelled lights in photography is the ability to enhance the mood and atmosphere in your images. By adding color through lighting gels, you can change the entire feel of a photograph and create a unique and artistic effect.

For instance, incorporating transparent color correction light sheets can enhance an image’s overall tone and balance when used with the primary light source. Adding a blue gel to the main light can impart a cool, calming vibe while using red or orange gels can infuse warmth and passion into the scene.

Lighting gels also increase the creativity and individuality of your work. With so many different gel types in various shades of colors, you can manipulate light sources and add depth and texture to your shots.

Creating Unique And Artistic Effects

Using gelled lights in photography and videography allows photographers to create unique, artistic effects that cannot be achieved with traditional lighting methods. By adding colored gels to your light sources, you can instantly change the mood and tone of your images.

Additionally, using color gels in combination with other lighting techniques can create stunning results. By placing a colored gel over one light source and using another white light as fill or key light, you can achieve beautiful contrast and depth in an image.

Experimenting with different combinations of gel sheets and filters can lead to even more creative possibilities for your main light.

Increased Creativity And Individuality

Enhancing creativity and individuality in photography is essential to standing out as a professional photographer. Gelled lighting provides endless opportunities for photographers to add their flare and personality to their images, allowing for complete customization and experimentation.

Color gels can also be used strategically alongside other lighting techniques, such as diffusers or reflectors, opening up possibilities for even more unique looks.

Photographers can showcase their style and create dynamic compositions that capture attention by experimenting with lighting gels and camera settings like shutter speed or aperture.

Versatile And Cost-Effective Solution

Gelled lights can be a highly versatile and cost-effective solution for professional photographers.

By applying color gels to their lighting, photographers can easily transform the look and atmosphere of their images without investing in expensive equipment. For example, blue gel sheets can create dreamy, ethereal images, or orange gels for warm and cozy shots.

Moreover, using color gels is affordable for independent photographers who don’t have access to lighting equipment but still want to produce professional results.

With just a few basic items like strobes or speed lights, gel sheets can help you capture stunning images that make your work stand out from others in the field.

Ability To Manipulate And Control Light Colors

Manipulating and controlling light colors is one of the most significant advantages of using gelled lights in photography and videography. With lighting gel sheets, you can easily change the color temperature of any light to produce unique and artistic effects. For example, photographers combine blue with yellow gels to create greenish tones that evoke calmness and serenity.

Adding Depth And Texture To Lighting

Using lighting gels is a fantastic way to add depth and texture to your photographs. By manipulating the color temperature of your light source, you can create a whole new mood and atmosphere for your image.

For instance, try using an orange gel on your key light to warm the outdoor scene.

Alternatively, you could use a blue gel on your rim or fill light to add coolness and contrast to the shot. It creates a moody effect that works well with subjects like architecture or landscape photography.

Finnaly, adding depth and texture through lighting gels allows professional photographers greater artistic freedom when creating their images, leading to exceptional results that stand out from others’ work in their field.

Techniques For Using Gels In Photography And Videography 

Combining natural and artificial light with gels can create exciting and unique effects, such as mixing warm sunlight with cool blue gel lighting to add depth and contrast to an outdoor portrait.

Photo by Kyle Loftus

Combining Natural And Artificial Light With Gels

One of the key benefits of using gelled lights is their versatility in combining natural and artificial light sources for a more dynamic effect. By blending these different types of light, photographers can create a unique balance that enhances the depth and texture of the image.

For example, if you’re shooting outdoors during the golden hour but want to add warmth or coolness to your subject’s skin tone or background, you can use color gels on your speed lights or strobes to match the ambient lighting.

Similarly, when photographing indoors with mixed lighting conditions, adding colored gels over your lights can help unify and complement those varied sources.

Diffusion Gels For Softening Light

Diffusion gels are useful for softening light and reducing harsh shadows. These gels can be especially helpful in portrait photography, where even lighting is critical to creating a polished look.

Different diffusion levels are available depending on how much softening you need. Some photographers prefer heavy diffusions, while others go for a subtle effect.

Experimenting with different diffusion gels will help you find the perfect balance between softness and clarity in your images.

Gel Placement On The Light Source

Proper placement of gels on the light source is critical to achieving the desired effect in your photography. Here are some tips for optimal gel placement:

  1. Place the gel directly on the light source: For best results, place the gel directly onto your light source using a frame, clamp, or tape.
  2. Use a modifier: If you use large lights such as softboxes or reflectors, place the gel on a separate frame and attach it to the modifier.
  3. Avoid overlapping gels: Overlapping gels can create unexpected color shifts, so avoid placing multiple gels on each other.
  4. Be mindful of spill: Consider how much spill you want from your light, which may impact where you place your gels.
  5. Experiment with distance: Moving your gels closer or further away from your light source can dramatically affect the intensity and color of the resulting light.
  6. Try different angles: Placing your gels at different angles can create exciting and unique effects in your photographs.

Remember, when using gelled lights in your photography, there are endless possibilities for creativity and experimentation with gel placement to achieve stunning results.

Color Correction And Creative Color Gels

Color correction is an essential aspect of photography, and lighting gels can help to achieve the desired effect. Photographers use gels to correct unwanted image color casts or add creative colors for artistic purposes.

Creative color gels are also great for photographers experimenting with different looks and styles. By placing colored gel sheets over their lighting sources, photographers can create unique effects that would otherwise be impossible with plain white light.

Color Grading And Color Matching

Color grading and color matching are two essential techniques achieved through lighting gels in photography and videography.

Grading involves adjustng the colors of an image using gel filters or gel sheets to create a desired look or atmosphere.

Color matching, on the other hand, is about creating consistency across different shots. By using the same type of gel on all your lights, you can ensure that they have consistent color temperatures and hues throughout your footage or photo series.

For example, if you’re shooting a scene with both natural light from windows and artificial light from studio lamps, you may choose to use orange gels over all your lamps to match the warmth of sunlight coming in through the windows.

It helps create consistency between shots taken at different times or locations, especially when using gel filters or sheets.

Tips For Using Gelled Lights

Choosing The Right Gel Type And Color For Desired Effect

Choosing the right gel type and color for your desired effect can make all the difference in creating a stunning image that captures the mood and atmosphere you want.

Professional photographers know different colors evoke different emotions – blues are calming, greens bring balance, and reds create excitement and energy.

It’s important to consider what emotion or message you want to convey before choosing a gel color.

Another key factor is determining which lighting source needs to be gelled. If it’s daylight or artificial white light sources (like fluorescent bulbs), adding colored gels can help infuse life into an otherwise dull scene by introducing vibrancy and depth.

On the other hand, if you’re working with strobes or speed lights, remember that they typically emit cooler light than standard tungsten lights, so choosing warmer-colored gels will help balance out any harshness from these lights while providing richer hues in your shots.

Properly Attaching And Handling Gels On Lighting Equipment

It’s important to know how to attach and handle gels on your lighting equipment properly. Here are some tips to help you achieve the desired effect:

  • Start by cleaning the surface of your light source with a cloth or compressed air. Any dust or debris can affect the gel’s color output.
  • Use high-temperature tape to attach the gel to your lighting equipment securely. Avoid using adhesives that could damage your gear or leave residue behind.
  • When placing the gel, ensure it is flush against the light source and not wrinkled or creased. That can cause uneven color distribution and affect the overall look of your image.
  • If using multiple gels on one light source, place them in order from closest to the light source to furthest away. That will ensure that each gel is evenly lit and produces consistent colors.
  • Use gloves or clean hands to avoid leaving fingerprints or oils on the surface when handling gels. It can cause unwanted variations in color output.
  • When finished shooting, remove the gels carefully and store them in a cool, dry place for future use.

Remember, properly handling and attaching gels is crucial for achieving the desired effect in your photos. By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your images are vibrant and consistent every time.

Combining Gels With Other Lighting Techniques

Color gels can be combined with other lighting techniques to create unique and stunning effects. For instance, a photographer can use a softbox as the main light and add colored gels to change the hue of the light.

Another helpful technique is placing a gel on top of speed lights or using reflectors with gelled lighting. It will create an even distribution of colored light across your subject’s face while maintaining sharpness in shadows.

Gelling lights may help you capture stunning photos that stand out from those without such techniques.

DIY Options

Learn how to make your gels to save money and achieve unique effects in your photography- read on!

Photo by Kyle Loftus

Tips And Tricks For Making Your Own Gels

Making your own gels can be cost-effective, allowing for creativity and customization. Here are some tips and tricks to help you make your gels:

  1. Choose the right materials – You will need transparent colored materials, like cellophane or acetate, to create your gels. Make sure the material is heat-resistant if you plan on using them with hot lights.
  2. Use color theory – Understanding color theory can help you pick the right colors for your desired effect. For example, complementary colors like blue and orange can create a striking contrast.
  3. Experiment with layering – Layering multiple colors of gels can create unique and interesting effects. Try experimenting with different combinations to see what works best for your style.
  4. Remember diffusion – Adding diffusion material like wax paper or tracing paper to your gels can help soften the light and create a more diffused effect.
  5. Secure the gels properly – Whether you’re using tape or clips, make sure your gels are attached securely to your lighting equipment to prevent any accidents or damage.

By following these tips and tricks, professional photographers can create their own custom lighting setups that are unique and personalized for their specific needs. They can experiment with different gel filters and sheets to achieve the desired effect.

Where To Find And Purchase Gelled Lights

Several options are available for professional photographers looking to experiment with gelled lights. Many photography supply stores carry lighting gel sheets in various colors that can be cut to fit your needs.

Online retailers like B&H Photo Video and Adorama also offer a wide selection of gelled lights and accessories, including color correction filters and diffusion gels. A quick search on Amazon will yield countless results for pre-made and DIY gel kits.


In conclusion, gelled lights are essential for professional photographers looking to enhance their creativity and produce unique and striking images.

With the ability to control light colors and create different moods and atmospheres, gels offer endless possibilities for experimentation!

Watch “Your first photo shoot using gels” below:


Each gel layer used over a light source will reduce its output by about one stop. That means you will lose about two light stops if you stack two layers of blue gel over your light source.

Using a color wheel, you can determine what color gel to use. You can use complementary or contrasting colors for a more dramatic effect.

Gels can add depth, drama, and emotion to your images. They can also help to separate your subject from the background and make your images unique and eye-catching. Can I use more than one gel on a single light source?

You can use as many gels as you want on a single light source. Using two different colored gels on a single light source can create a new color that blends the two colors used.

Some common gels used in photography include blue, red, yellow, green, purple, and orange.

To use gels in your photography, attach the gel to your light source. You can put a gel over the flash or hold it before the light source. Adjust the intensity of the light and the distance from your subject to achieve the desired effect.

Yes, you can use white light with gels. Using a white light as the main light and a gel as a background or rim light can produce some interesting and creative results

Color gels are sheets of plastic that come in various colors, used to change the color of the light source used in photography.

Gel photography uses colored light and colored gels to convey emotion and mood in a photograph. Gel photography is generally used for background lightrim light, or main light on a model.

Gelled lighting uses colored sheets of translucent plastic, also known as gels, over the flash or continuous light source to illuminate a scene in photography.

Most types of continuous lighting sources (i.e., LED panels/ fluorescent bulbs/tungsten), strobe flashes/studio monolights equipped with focused reflectors are compatible with attaching colored gel filters onto them but need attention to ensure airflow is maintained around unshielded fixtures where heat buildup may cause damage over time if not appropriately addressed (e.g., secure proper ventilation systems).

A wide range of colors can be achieved with gelled lights, including warm tones like oranges/yellows/red/or ambers which help create nostalgic feeling or sunset scenarios; cool tones like blues/greens/purples/cyans, which evoke calming & relaxing ambiance; neutral grey hues are widely applied in fashion shoots while various skin tone adjustments can assist photographers/videographers correcting unnatural coloring.

To apply gels on lights, you need to cut them according to the size and shape of the light source, then attach them using clips or tape. It is essential to ensure that the gel is flat against the surface of the light without any creases or ripples, as this could affect its effectiveness in producing accurate colors.

Gelled lights are used to add color and mood to scenes, enhance certain features or elements, or create a specific atmosphere that complements the project’s overall theme. They are commonly used in portrait shots, music videos, films, and commercial advertisements.

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