Colored Gel Photography
I never knew how much fun photography could be until I got out of my element and tried something new. In July of 2017, I came across a tutorial set on RGGEDU.com with renowned Color Gel Photographer Jake Hicks, and I decided to give it a try on my own.
Up to this point, I’d been doing only natural light photography for over a year and I really knew very little about studio lighting. My limited experience was with local photographers and meet-ups that included basic instruction of studio portrait lighting.
Tutorial learning overview
In hindsight, I probably should have taken a course on basic studio lighting before jumping into this course, but I said, “what the hell, I’m just gonna do it”. 2 weeks later I finished the video tutorials and I could not wait to do a shoot.
When I was reading the overview of the course, I was really drawn to the examples in the accompanying promotional video. I wanted to work with models and create beautiful colored mood lighting for my photography portfolio.
Granted I am not a professional photographer, and with little experience as it is, I just went for it. Here are a few notes I remember taking on this tutorial and what I hoped to learn
- Step by step instructions for setting up lighting and gels
- Being able to do this type of shoot with limited equipment
- Discussing issues that may arise when doing a colored gel shoot
- Communicating with model on set to get the best results
- How to edit the photos in Photoshop after the shoot was done
With these main points, I figured I had nothing to lose. I had 3 cheap 300-watt lights I purchased from amazon.com, along with 3 silver umbrellas to work with and my trusty Sony A7. I was going to make it happen.
What I learned from the tutorials
After watching the first few videos in the tutorial, I knew right then I could do this. I had different lighting equipment and a different camera but I didn’t let that stop me. It was because the information was easy to follow, and the tutorial was very clear and not too technical for me as a beginner.
Jake’s explanations were very simple to follow. He made sure to explain how and why he was making a color choice. Also, he made sure to explain the issues you may run into when setting up the lights. Remember, I had limited experience with studio lights in the first place, but I followed his tutorials and took notes on each shoot. I had to do some side studying on youtube for proper exposure, but it was nothing too complicated. I considered the colors he was using, and how he chose each style. It was easy to listen to him communicate with the model on posing, and why he was directing them into certain stances.
After the shoot was done, he went step-by-step into each shoot and showed his workflow for editing photos. The tutorial set included some RAW files for you to follow along and practice with. You didn’t need specific presets of actions.
My favorite quote from the tutorials was when Jake said “enhance what is already there”. This turned out to be very true. You are adding color to the photo, and when you control the light, you really don’t have to add much in post-processing.
In natural light portrait photography, it is easy for me to work with a dominant light source like the sun. In studio lighting, I had to relearn to see and shape light using the different light modifiers. Adding gels made it easier for me because I could see the colored light and how it was interacting with my subject when I started practicing. It was an odd way to become more comfortable with studio lights. I felt like I did it backwards and started with colors and not white light.
Would I recommend this tutorial?
If you are feeling adventurous, I give this a thumbs up! I’ve already recommended this tutorial set to a few friends from the Dallas photography community, and I am excited to see what results they achieve with this new study material.
Colored Gel Photography – What to keep in mind
I knew going into the tutorials that I was not going to get the exact look from the photos Jake was shooting. He used different camera equipment and lighting and his professional experience as a photographer plays a huge part in his unique look. He was shooting in a large open studio, and I was shooting in a small extra room in my home.
It was the principles of the teaching I was trying to learn. Technical aspects of any tutorial can be learned and adopted. It is taking the foundation of the learning and applying it to your own style that made this exciting.
I edit differently from Jake, so I also knew I was going to get a different result. I have a very specific workflow I use, but I still adopted some of his techniques into my own. Here are a few things I hope everyone keeps in mind when learning this style.
- It’s ok to get a different result from the tutorials and include it into your own style
- Beginner photographers should not be intimidated to learn this style
- You don’t need thousand-dollar lighting equipment to get started
- Be unique, and experiment with the different setups and different colors
- Don’t be afraid to reach out on social in the RGG Facebook group if you have questions
Samples of my Colored Gel Photography
I hope you enjoyed this session. Consider checking out some other great gear from Sony.
Great Sony Full-Frame Cameras for Portrait Photography:
My Sony A7riii Mirrorless Camera – High resolution Sony Mirrorless Camera
The Sony A7rii – High resolution Sony Mirrorless Camera (2nd Generation)
Sony a7iii Mirrorless Camera – 3rd Generation Sony Mirrorless Camera
Sony a7ii Mirrorless Camera w/IBIS – 2nd Generation Sony Mirrorless Camera
The Sony A7 Mirrorless Camera – Great full-frame starter camera for beginners
Sony Full-Frame Lenses for Portraits: (e-mount)
Sony 85mm f1.4 G-Master – Best 85mm portrait lens
Batis 85mm f1.8 – Lightweight 85mm portrait lens
Sony 85mm f1.8 – Smallest 85mm portrait lens
Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 – Small, sharp, lightweight portrait lens (my favorite lens)
The Sony 50mm f1.8 – Cheap starter nifty fifty
The Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 – Great wide option for portraits and lifestyle images
Sony 24-70 G-Master f2.8 – Sharp and versatile zoom lens
Sony 24-105 G Lens f4.0 – One of the best zooms for Sony
Wide Angle 16-35mm F2.8 – G-Master wide angle lens
The Sony 70-200 G-Master Lens f2.8 – Long range telephoto zoom
Great Sony Starter Cameras for Portraits: (crop-sensor)
Sony a6400 Mirrorless Camera – Amazing eye auto-focus detection
Sony a6300 Mirrorless Camera – Sony mirrorless camera (2nd generation)
The Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera – Great affordable interchangeable lens camera
Sony a6500 Mirrorless Camera w/IBIS – Amazing photography and video camera
Affordable Crop Sensor Lenses for Portraits: (e-mount)
Sigma 30mm f1.4 – Great for blurry backgrounds
Sony 50mm f1.8 OSS – Made for crop sensors and shallow depth of field
Sigma 16mm f1.4 – Amazing lens for Vloggers and video
Sony 35mm f1.8 – Super walk around lens for travel