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Tips & Tricks

Using Gels To Set The Mood Of Your Images | Joe McNally

By Chris Nachtwey on November 18th 2014

The lighting modifiers and light choices we have as photographers can seem overwhelming  at times. Should I use a strobe or speed light? Should I use a softbox or umbrella? It just never ends. This is especially true if you’re fairly new to off camera lighting and have not yet decided what your go-to lighting tools are. With that said, one of the cheapest and simplest tools you can use to change the look of your image or even give them a more unique look are gels. Gels are fairly inexpensive, come in a range of colors and can be easily cut down to size or modified to fit over your speedlights, strobes, and continuous lights.


In the Adorama sponsored video below, one of the masters of light, Joe McNally, walks us through using a gel to mimic to look of a movie theater projector to help set the mood for a portrait.


Joe’s lighting set up has four lights involved, but honestly, it’s not all that complicated. He is using a main light camera left of his subject in a large softbox. He then uses three speedlights, two of them in the back corners of the room to create rim lights on his subject and help illuminate the seats. His fourth and final light is a speedlight gelled with a blue gel, and in the back of the room, behind his subject to make it look like a theater projector. As Joes states in the video, when we look at a theater projector they always tend to appear blue in color, hence why he gelled the flash blue.




While this is a basic technique, I truly believe using gels on your lights is important to learn and to remember. All too often I see photographers just using straight flash, which is daylight balanced, in situations where, if they gelled their flash, it would set the mood and environment of their images so much better. Give gels a try next time you’re looking to change up the mood of your images or just want to experiment with something new.

Via: Adorama Youtube Page

Images captured via screen grab.

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. aaron febbo

    legit !

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    His articles provides such a great understanding on how to be creative and produce wow images with speedlights! He is the Godfather of speedlights.

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  3. Fernando Lachica

    Awesome techniques; learning this with my own. Someday..

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  4. John Cavan

    Hmm… I think the video premise isn’t what was delivered. I like Joe’s videos, but I found the shot setup as concept was much more of the story than the gel on the flash. Unless you’re looking to learn that a projector looks bluish when viewed, the win in this video is the creative process around lighting the scene as a whole and the basic concept of the shoot itself. So, I felt that the gel was basically the least interesting, and possibly least discussed, aspect of this video when it was all said and done.

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  5. Brandon Dewey

    Great video!!!

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  6. Aaron Cheney

    Great article

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  7. Jeff Morrison

    Joe McNally Rocks, I love his work and he isn’t afraid to tell you how he does his thing.

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