Coloring with Lights

When in doubt, photographers photograph their equipment. This particular shot, you may notice, has a pleasing color balance, thanks to being lit entirely by white light flash units.
When in doubt, photographers photograph their equipment. This particular shot, you may notice, has a pleasing color balance, thanks to being lit entirely by white light flash units.

By now we should all be getting comfortable with concepts dealing with color, like white balance and saturation. If not, and I don’t mean this sarcastically at all, go back and look at your pictures of people, and ask yourself why most of their faces are too orange or too blue, which, in all honesty, they are. I say this based on the enormous number of images I see every day with bad flesh tones.

When you’re done with that, read on.

Shooting with just the red and blue lights gives about what you'd expect: a purplish image.
Shooting with just the red and blue lights gives about what you’d expect: a purplish image.
This looks like a red gel filter, but it is actually a magenta gel and a yellow gel sandwiched together.
This looks like a red gel filter, but it is actually a magenta gel and a yellow gel sandwiched together.

The other day I was scavenging an abandoned office at my workplace. I came across some Kodak Wratten filters (colored gels) in that search. These 3×3-inch plastic filters were originally used in by the production department to control the various renderings of the halftone products used to reproduce images in our newspaper. Despite the fact that they were damaged and obsolete, I decided I had a use for them: to change the color of light.

I brought them home and cobbled them together with clear tape. I was able to assemble a blue filter and a red-magenta filter, and I taped each one on a flash in my home studio.

Despite looking a bit purple in-hand, this filter is an honest photographic blue.
Despite looking a bit purple in-hand, this filter is an honest photographic blue.

I made a few images, and found I was glad to have this tool in my tool kit. Of course, you don’t necessarily need Wratten filters to change the color of the light. One excellent way to achieve this is by bouncing a flash into something colorful. Often one of the best items for this is the shiny foldable sunshade you see occasionally covering dashboards of parked cars on hot days. You can buy them with the other side in various colors, like red, gold or purple.

This is two white-light flashes with a blue flash as an accent.
This is two white-light flashes with a blue flash as an accent.
This image is lit with two white flash units and a red accent light.
This image is lit with two white flash units and a red accent light.
All-American lighting: a perfect balance of red, white, and blue.
All-American lighting: a perfect balance of red, white, and blue.

Altering the color of portions of your light can fundamentally change the look of your images, and the ability to do so is an excellent item to have in your bag. It can be a lot of fun, and it can throw some fuel on the embers of your creativity.

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