Using Gels for Background Color

In this video, I demonstrate using gels for background color for your portrait work. We’ll see how to do this with basic Speedlite (Speedlight) flash units. We’ll also cover the important topic of avoiding contaminating your gel color splashes with the subject’s main light.

The examples shown feature the use of a seamless background paper made by Savage.  The color, Thunder Gray, is a favorite with portrait photographers because of its versatility.  It’s a great tone for black and white as well as color images.  It’s got a classic feel that looks good on its own, but you can easily create new background colors with it by simply splashing the seamless with one or more gelled flashes.

What You’ll Need

I’m using the following elements for this demonstration:

  • Flash as the main light (for the subject)
  • Flash as background light
  • Gray seamless background paper
  • Colored gels

Camera and Flash Settings

I used the following camera settings to do this demonstration:

  • Manual Mode
  • Raw
  • White Balance (WB):  Flash
  • Aperture:  f/8
  • ISO:  200
  • Shutter Speed:  1/250 (x-sync)

Flash (power) settings are discussed in the video.  The main takeaway:  more flash power isn’t always better depending on the color effect you’re looking for.

When using gels for background color, we need to watch out for light spill.  For example, if you use a shoot-through umbrella as a modifier for your main light, it might spill white light over to your background.  This will contaminate the color effect produced by the gelled flash unit(s).  One way to avoid this is by using a softbox instead.

Another thing you might want to avoid is colored light from the gels affecting your subject.  In the video, I talk about using a flag to help block the light from the gelled flash from spilling over onto the subject.