Tutorial: Lighting effects and gels
Let’s get creative with the background lighting…
Our background here is grey, because grey gives us the most options – it’s possible but difficult to get a white background to photograph as black or to get a black one to photography as white, but it’s easy to get grey to photograph as black, white, or any shade or colour, just by keeping light away from the background, adding it or colouring it..
The first step is to take away the 70x100cm Profold softbox fitted with a blue lighting gel that produced the graduated blue to black background that we had got to last week. The shot above is with no lighting whatever on the background, there’s just a strip softbox, fitted with a honeyomb to light his right hand side and a honeycomb set up to light the edge of the left hand side of his face. And because of this, the grey background photographed as black (above).
And then I added a 10 degree honeycomb to a standard reflector, aimed it at the background and ended up with a circle of white on a background that would otherwise have photographed as black (above), because no other light was reaching it. Honeycombs come in various flavours, from 10 to 40 degrees, and the lower the number the smaller the circle of light will be – but, the higher the power setting on the flash is, the more the light will spread, so even a 10 degree honeycomb can produce a pretty big circle of light if the power is set high enough. The shot above demonstrates this, I wanted to have a much smaller lit area so simply reduced the flash power, and I then ended up with the shot below.
It looked a bit flat, so I added a blue gel to the honeycombed light on the background, and here’s the shot, below.
But I wanted more drama, so leaving the honeycombed flash head exactly where it was, I simply changed the blue gel to a red one, to create fire and drama – I did this shoot a few days after the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th 2015, and I was thinking that the right people to deal with terrorist attacks is the military, and although I couldn’t manage a hard hat and weaponry for my model and couldn’t show his cap badge or arm patch but I did at least have control of lighting effects…
Honeycombs have various different uses, and when used in this way, to light the background, they create a pretty uneven lighting pattern. This could have been dealt with in post processing, but I found it easier just to shoot at f.7.1, which with my 200mm lens on a full-frame camera, gave the right amount of depth of field for my subject but which put the uneven background nicely out of focus.
And my next thought was that there would be emergency vehicles with blue flashing lights there too – so let’s add the effect of a blue flashing light. It’s a still photo so it doesn’t actually need to flash, it’s all about perception and impressions. So I added a blue gel to the rim light, to produce this effect. A rim light is a light that is at the side of the subject, but also a bit behind so that the light only catches the very edge and doesn’t light the front. so now his left hand side is lit by the light from an emergency beacon.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – you don’t need any fancy gear to attach lighting gels, just a bit of masking tape, which removes easily after use without leaving a sticky mess behind. And gels can be kept in their full size sheets, which means that they will last for ever. A lot of years ago, I bought loads of different gels in different, subtle shades, but now I only use the primary colours (red, blue, green) because that’s all that’s actually needed for producing a very wide range of different colour effects.
All light is additive. I started with a grey background and as none of the light that lit the subject could reach the background (because the lights were angled away from the background) in effect I had a black background. The red gelled light created the colour and shade of red that I wanted, if I had turned the power down even more then the red would have been even more deeply saturated, and if I had turned it up then it would have been more of a pastel, pink colour – it’s all fully controllable! And the same goes for the blue gelled light, here I had the power fairly high, to get a bright, vibrant colour.