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  • Writer's pictureAmy Demidow

The Ultimate Guide to Using Color Gels in Photography

Updated: May 5, 2023

I promise you, colour theory isn't anywhere near as complicated as you may have been led to believe. In fact, most colour theory is pretty intuitive. You instinctively know when a musical note is out of tune and you also instinctively know when two colours look bad together. That's really all colour theory is. That being said, here are a few tips to get you started.

If you've yet to play with colour gels, you may never have had to deal with colour theory before, but whether you're new to gels or not, colour theory is crucial to successful gelled portraits.

Colour Theory Is Vital When Using Colour Gels In PhotograpHy

Making sure your gelled portrait abides by 1 of the 3 core colour theories below is always an easy-win!

Before you start using colour gels in your photography, it's important to have a basic understanding of color theory. This will help you choose the right colors to create the mood and atmosphere you want in your photos. The color wheel is a useful tool for understanding color theory. It shows the primary colours (red, blue, and yellow), secondary colors (orange, green, and purple), and tertiary colours (yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple, red-purple, red-orange, and yellow-orange). By combining different colours, you can create a wide range of hues and tones.

Complimentary Colours

You're likely already very familiar with complementary colours, but these are the colours that appear opposite one another on the colour wheel. By far the most popular example of this is orange and blue and these two complementary colours get used all the time in film and TV, plus it's one of the few colour combos that exist everywhere in nature. Purple and yellow can also work and another popular example of complementary colours is red and green.

Triadic Colours

At first glance, you may think that you don't see triadic colours being used all too often, but when you realise that triadic colours include both the 3 primary colours and 3 secondary colours, you'll soon realise that you see this colour combo everywhere in logos and other bold designs. Triadic colours appear on the colour wheel at the corners of an equilateral triangle and they include the very popular red, blue and yellow.

Analogous Colours

This is yet another easy colour combo to pull off and again, this is a colour theory that is widely used in TV and film. Analogous colours are the colour group that sit side-by-side one another on the colour wheel. The most common examples of analogous colours are warm tones and cold tones. For example, a warm sunny day is portrayed with yellows and oranges, whereas a cold scene is shown with turquoises and blues.

Choose the Right Color Gels for Your Subject and Scene

When it comes to using color gels in photography, choosing the right colors is crucial. Consider the mood and atmosphere you want to create in your photo, and choose colors that will enhance that feeling. For example, if you want to create a warm and cozy atmosphere, use warm colors like orange or red. If you want to create a cool and calming atmosphere, use cool colors like blue or green. It's also important to consider the subject of your photo and choose colors that will complement or contrast with it. Experiment with different color combinations to find what works best for your style and vision.

Color gels are a powerful tool for creating mood and emotion in your photography. By using warm colors like red and orange, you can create a sense of warmth and intimacy in your photos. Cool colors like blue and green can create a sense of calmness and tranquility. Experiment with different color combinations to see what works best for the mood you want to convey. Remember, the colors you choose can have a big impact on the overall feel of your photo, so choose wisely

Don't Be Afraid to Get Creative and Have Fun!

When it comes to using color gels in photography, there are no hard and fast rules. Don't be afraid to experiment and try new things.

Play around with different colors, layering gels, and even using multiple gels at once. You never know what kind of stunning effects you might create.

Don't be afraid to try different lighting setups to see what works best for your photo. You can use gels on your main light source, fill light, or even background lights to create different effects. Try using multiple gels at once to create unique color combinations. Remember to keep in mind the color temperature of your lights and adjust accordingly to avoid color casts.

And most importantly, have fun with it! Photography is all about expressing your creativity and capturing the beauty of the world around you.


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