How to Use Flash Gels to Balance Light

Have you ever taken a photo with your flash indoors where the lights in the background look very orange, or blue?  Using the right flash gels and CTO gels can fix that!

Balanced light using LumiQuest Flash Gels

Flashes are set to a different white balance temperature than indoor lighting.  It’s the same reason that most streetlights appear yellow, and fluorescent lights that are usually featured in office buildings, have a cold blue look.  

Every light source has a different color and our eyes adjust to see.  Daylight is very blue and incandescent bulbs are very yellow.  But although our eyes adjust to see a white object as white.  Our cameras are sometimes tricked!


LumiQuest FXtra

The trick to fixing this problem, involves matching your lights to the lighting in the room with flash color gels so that everything has the same balance. Your camera white balance dial will compensate.  All you have to do is choose the correct flash gels (usually a CTO gel), and set your white balance to the type of light that you are seeing.  

Sometimes Auto will work well, but ideally choosing the correct balance will produce the best results.

So how do you choose the correct flash gels?

 It all depends on the light you are shooting in.  The most typical lighting for homes features incandescent bulbs.  These bulbs put off a very warm and yellowish/orange light.  Your flash is pre-balanced to daylight settings which are much colder than this color.  To match this you will need to warm up the lighting on your flash.  Do this by placing an orange CTO gel on the flash.  

You’ll notice that most gel kits (lumiquest included) feature 3 different oranges with one dark, one light, and one in the middle.  Use your best judgement with which one to use and test them all out since you are likely shooting digital!  

The final detail to remember is to set your white balance to match the light bulbs.

What do you do when the light is too cold?  

Match that source with a green gel and change the white balance setting to reflect that change (usually incandescent/tungsten).  

The KEY with lighting is to make the flash gel coloring match the TYPE of lighting in the room and match your white balance as well.  

It seems like it’s tricky at first but once you get the hang of it, it becomes pretty simple method to balance light and create natural looking images.

Using Flash Gels for special effects lighting

Using flash color gels for special effects lighting

Once you’ve mastered these lighting techniques you can take it to the next level and create even more unique images by using gel’s when you technically don't need to use them.  

When you throw a warming gel on a flash and shoot in daylight with a daylight white balance, the subject will appear warmer and the sky will look correct.  If you change the white balance to incandescent/tungsten, you’ll get a more bluish/purple sky and the subject will be correctly balanced!

You’ll notice that the LumiQuest FXtra Gel Kit and other gel kits also come with additional colors.  What are those for?  If you haven’t guessed it, these additional colors are for special FX lighting.  

These are some of the most fun to work with since you can use them to literally “paint with light” and create unique details in an image.  Try to think outside the box to really get the most out of your flash gels, and most importantly, have fun while you are out shooting.

Happy Shooting!