Lighting with Colour Gels Diagrams 1 : Flash and Constant Light Source

Lighting With Colour Gels, Strobes and LED Lights

This might be an odd/more complex one to start the series with, but it’s my most recent shoot and I’m delighted with how it turned out.

Last week, I arranged a shoot with the hyper-talented Dubh Lee recently and we spoke about using some colour gels during the shoot. I used two different light types and two gels during the shoot to get the series of images that you’ll see on my social media. But for today we’ll concentrate on one image.

Lets looks at how I got the image below:

Lighting with colour gels

Lighting Diagram and light placement

The placement of the lights was as follows:

I had one Strobe (in this instance a Godox V850) in a small-medium sized beauty dish above Dubh Lee’s head. This had a grid to prevent the light spilling onto the background and there was no gel on it. It was about a foot from her face.

There was a softbox on the ground, pointing up (to camera left) with a blue/purple gel on it. These were harsh gels - and the Godox SLB60Ws isn’t the most powerful light, so what got through was minimal. However as it was a long exposure shot, I could afford to have it quite low for now.

The second LED light is the one with the red gel. This was angled at an angle where it was just catching Dubh Lee’s face, while also spilling ever-so-slightly onto the background. It was at a marginally higher power level than the other one.

The other important thing to note here is that there is no smoke machine used in this shot. This is a long exposure shot. I took the photo and moved the camera along the scene for the 2 second duration.

Anyway, that’s the light setup and here’s what all that looks like in a diagram form:

Lighting Diagram for lighting with Strobes. It features three lights, two colour gels and one camera.

Camera Settings

So the first thing to say is that this shot is a long-exposure shot. It was a two-second exposure. So when the camera fires, the shutter stays open for two seconds. The flash hits Dubh Lee’s face and the LEDS illuminate the scene otherwise.

I was using my Nikon D610 (this was my first shoot with it, with Sigma’s old manual focus 70-200 f/2.8 on top.
I shoot in Manual mode for things like this because it’s easier to control everything, than control some things. So I set the shutter to 2 Seconds and dropped the ISO as low as it would go.

I could have used a narrower f-stop, but f/11 was where I started and it gave the results I wanted pretty much straight off the bat. Whether it was luck or experience, I was delighted. Everything was sharp and the light levels looked spot on to me.

Here’s the camera information for this one:

Colour Gel Photography Studio Diagram. This shows the settings used on camera for a colour gel shoot.

Balancing the Lights

(AKA: Wait. How did you avoid camera blur and get her face so sharp with a long exposure, then?)

Good question.

See, we’re mixing lights here. The Godox V850 has a flash duration between 1/300 to 1/20,000 of a second. That’s ridiculously fast (For comparison, It takes you about 1/400 of a second to blink). It’s not just fast though. It fires very powerfully during it’s short burst. It’s so powerful that it leaves a lasting impression on the camera’s sensor. But we only want this light on the face. To prevent the lighting hitting anywhere else, the flash was shot through a grid.

So, we’ve frozen the face on the sensor. Providing we don’t light the face with anything else during the exposure, the face is sorted.

Creating the ‘Smoke Effect’ with Long Exposure

So if the flashes fire hard and fast, the LED lights are the exact opposite. They don’t flash and they are not very powerful. They burn away slowly on the sensor. The 2 second exposure time allows these under-powered lights to leave their impression to the same extent as the flash.

That means that any movement of the camera, would make these lights move and blur on the sensors. So that’s exactly what I did.

By focusing on Dubh Lee’s face, pressing the shutter and then slowly moving my camera around the scene, I could create the shadowy, smoke-like effect. This is not an exact science, but there are some things to be aware of.

  1. Don’t point your camera directly at a light source during this time (it’ll cause light streaks)

  2. Don’t just move you camera to once position and rest it there (it’ll burn the image there at a peculiar position.


Shooting with gels and long exposure

Shooting with two different light sources can be incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun. There is an element of luck involved with it to an extent; even with ample preparation the movement of the camera can create unforeseen effects.

However, it is a technical challenge too. By understanding the fundamentals of cameras and how lights work, it can yield great results, time and time again. Overall it’s a nice technique to have in the back if you’re a regular colour gel shooter.

And if you’ve any questions, ask away in the comments. I’ll reply as soon as I can.
If you’ve gotten this far, give me a follow in Instagram or check out my Colour Gallery and let me know which photos you’d like to see broken down next.

Looking for more lighting guides? Check out my full 101 page on them here.

See you soon!