Tips on using flash with color gels at a wedding event
As a budding wedding photographer, one of the accessories that you have to look to use more often is an external flash.
External flash units are very powerful sources of artificial light useful in places where there is not enough ambient light to work with. They are also useful if the quality of light is not perfect.
Though a lot of professional photographers do prefer strobes to flash units, strobes do have a problem and that is they need slightly more space to setup and maneuver. Compact flash units are thus perfect when you need additional lights but don’t have the luxury of a lot of space. In really tights places two or three flash units fired using a wireless transceiver provides just the right amount of light for shooting great images.
The problem, however, with using flash at wedding events, especially when the wedding happens indoors, is that the ambient light is never perfect. For a start different light sources have different color cast on the images. Tungsten, one of the more popular lights at wedding events, has a warm yellow color cast. Fluorescent lights, on the other hand, has a pretty bluish color cast. Images shot using daylight white balance settings under florescent light will produce bluish images. As you can guess images shot under tungsten lights and day light white balance settings will produce yellow/orange color cast.
When setting the white balance of your camera you would normally use an 18% grey card. But the problem is when you are shooting in mixed lighting conditions that process becomes a tag difficult. In such situations you can try an alternate method, one which uses color gels.
Before we delve any further I should give you a brief idea about color gels.
Color gels are available in different colors such as yellow, orange, purple, blue and so on. In order to use them you need to wrap them in front of the flash head with rubber bands. They impart a specific color temperature to the light emanated from the flash. As you may have guessed it, the ultimate object is to ensure that the color cast of the ambient light is matched with a similar color gel wrapped in front of the flash head. That way the whole image has the same color cast. This can be easily rectified in Photoshop.
Using color gels is very easy, however, picking the right color gel can be a bit tricky, especially if you cannot use Photoshop or Lightroom at the venue. If you could at least have a way to transfer a test image to your tablet to check the color temperature of the ambient light, you could correctly select the right color gel to balance the color cast. The lack of this option means this is where your experience comes to play.
Color gels are available in different strengths 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and so on. The bigger the fraction the more the color cast will be. A problem that you need to be aware of when using color gels is that these will also stop some amount of light from getting through apart from colorizing them. Always take a test shot after you have used a color gel to figure out the right exposure for the scene.
Alternatives to using color gels is to use color cellophanes. One roll of color cellophane will last for months if not years. Cellophanes however have a problem. They tend to melt when exposed to higher temperatures. So be careful if you are going to use them on strobes instead of flash heads. Proper color gels made by Rogue e.g.; are better in quality and longevity.
There are alternate methods such as using color gels on the ambient light sources or using Color Passport Checker. The second one is a very effective method too, which we shall discuss in the future.