Color Gels are extremely effective tools to help you create unique and dynamic photographs, and have been around since the early days of film photography. The two most common reasons why you would want to use color gels with your flash are for balancing color temperature, or adding color for creative effect. MagMod offers 4 different sets of color gels for each of the reasons above. The first set are the MagMod Standard Gels included with our MagMod Basic Kit. These 8 color gels (Full CTO, 1/2 CTO, 1/4 CTO, 1/2 Straw, 1/2 Green, 1/2 Blue, 8x Neutral Density, and Diffusion) are primarily used for balancing color temperature. The same goes for our Advanced Gel Set. This set includes two (2) Full CTO, three (3) ½ CTO, two (2) ¼ CTO, 1 Full Blue. Our other two sets of color gels, the MagMod Creative Gel Set and the MagMod Artistic Gel Set, can be purchased as a stand-alone products and are great for adding pops of color to your photos!
Balancing Color Temperature
Photography is the art of capturing light. It literally means “drawing with light”, taken from the Greek words “photos”, which means light, and “graphé”, which means drawing. We all know that light can present itself many different qualities such as color, hue, density, and temperature. We can’t always control 100% of the light around us, but we can change the color of our flash to balance the ambient light - the surrounding environment color temperature.
The color temperature of almost all hot-shoe flashes is generally 5500° Kelvin, which is very similar to the color temperature of natural daylight. Since we will often find ourselves using sunlight in our photographs, flash manufactures decided long ago to make our flash color temperature match the same color temperature we see in sunlight. This is useful when photographing portraits outdoors and we need to add flash to create a specific lighting pattern, but don’t want our flash to look any different than what the sun may be producing.
The Need for Gels
So why do we need gels? Gels are used when we want to balance the color temperature of our flash (5500°K) to be used in an environment where the predominant light source is not sunlight. The above graphic illustrates a variety of common color temperatures, shown on the Kelvin color temperature scale.
Even though most interior lights are now closely calibrated to match the daylight color temperature, often times we will be photographing in reception halls, commercial buildings, or even in our own homes which may not share the same color temperature as our flash.
Most interior light sources are generally one of two types of light sources: incandescent light bulbs (tungsten), or fluorescent tubes. Both of these light sources have very different hues and color temperatures. Most incandescent light bulbs emit a color temperature of 2800°K, which is much warmer than our flash. Using a flash in a room with a predominant warm tone will make your subject or surroundings look very cool. This results in lighting that looks unnatural. In this situation, if you try and color correct the same photograph, you can color correct for the subject, but the surrounding color temperature will also get warmer, making the room look much warmer than it really was. Color balancing your flash is all about making the scene look as natural and as even as possible.
Photographer Ben Chrisman used CTO gels during an engagement session in the mid afternoon to make the photograph appear as if it was during sunset.
You can balance for interior incandescent light bulbs, or sunset, by using a warming gel, like
1/4 CTO, 1/2 CTO, or Full CTO (color temperature orange). This will “warm” up your flash color temperature to balance the color temperature of the sunset, or interior light bulbs. Each gel has a different intensity of warmth, and you will use either one, or a combination of two or more to suit your needs. The 1/4 CTO gel will convert daylight light sources (5500°K) to a warmer color temperature (4500°K), where a Full CTO gel will convert daylight light sources all the way to 2900°K, which is very close to incandescent light bulbs.
1/2 Straw. This is very similar to 1/2 CTO in that it is a warming gel, but 1/2 Straw has a tad bit more yellow hue in it which is best used for warming people and skin tones. Sometimes a 1/2 CTO can be too orange, making it harder to properly white balance in post production. The 1/2 Straw will make skin tones appear a bit more natural, without as much orange hue.
Another common situation where you need to balance your flash is when photographing under fluorescent light sources. These lights are warmer, in the 3800°K range, but also have a green tint to them. Using a bare flash on your subject (5500°K) will look good if you balance for daylight in post production, but the ambient light from the fluorescents will make everything else look green. This might be the effect you want, but you can eliminate the green surrounding areas by changing your flash to match the fluorescent lights by using a 1/2 Plusgreen gel.
Photographer: Eric McCallister
FULL, 1/2 CTB (color temperature blue, or cooling). These gels would be commonly used to “cool” tungsten light sources to make them more white, but since our flash is not a tungsten color temperature, but daylight balanced, this gel can be used more as a special effect. If you’re shooting during sunset, and you had a 1/2 CTB gel on your flash to light your subject, this will make your subject cool. But later in post-production, you can alter the white balance so that your subject is now daylight balanced, and the environment will be pushed warmer, making your sunsets even more dramatic.
8x Neutral Density (3 stops). A neutral density gel is the same as what would be used for landscape photography when you want to reduce the amount of light reaching your sensor without any color bias. An 8x Neutral Density gel will reduce the light output of your flash by 3 stops. This is helpful when you want reduce the power output below the minimum output your flash is capable of, allowing you to decrease the effect of your flash when using large apertures. This would be necessary when attempting to shoot indoors in dark environments where the minimum power setting is still too bright, like at a wedding reception or other event photography situations.
Photographer: Trevor Crosby
White Opal Frost. This is a special gel designed specifically to diffuse light without significantly reducing light output. Diffused light will reduce contrast, minimize specular highlights, and help soften the harshness of direct flash output.
The MagGel Holder allows you to hold 3 different gels at once, allowing you to change the color temperature (1/2 CTO), reduce light output (8x Neutral Density), and diffuse the light (White Opal Frost) all at once. No other flash gel system is as flexible and customizable as the MagMod MagGel!