Sunday, September 07, 2008
Putting the magic of theatrical lighting to work for my camera by gelling my flash
If you're shooting color photos under fluorescent lights, there aren't too many good solutions for coping with the color cast of the lights. You can set your white balance on fluorescent and the colors look pretty good -- but people's eyes are deeply shadowed from the overhead lighting. If you use fill flash to open up the shadows, your subjects will look blue, the background green. You can turn off the fluorescents and use bounce flash if there's a low, neutral-colored ceiling, but bounce flash has its own challenges. What if the ceiling is too high, or the wrong color? The ideal solution would be to filter your flash to match the fluorescents. But how do you do that?
You do it by covering your flash head with a gel filter to match the ambient lighting. Now I can say, "Bring it on, fluorescent lights! My camera is ready for anything." I finally got some Rosco gels for my strobe, so I can use fill flash in any lighting situation, working with the ambient light instead of trying to overwhelm it. (It's especially nice in fluorescent environments, with the flash dialed back to provide just enough light to put some spark in the eyes. No more blue people.)
In Madison you can get free sample packs of Rosco gels that are big enough to to cover the flash head of shoe-mounted flashes at John S. Hyatt & Associates, which provides lighting solutions for theatrical and architectural applications. They're upstairs at 122 State Street. When you go there, you'll find this cool example of the magic of theatrical lighting, which uses gels to create all sorts of visual effects. This lovely design is projected onto onto the carpet in front of the door by a theatrical lighting unit.
Want to find out more about gelling your flash, such as which gels to use for which lights, how to attach the gels and where to find them? There was a definitive post on this topic in Strobist a couple of years ago. Here it is. It will tell you all you need to know, both in the post and in the extensive comments.
Note: Gelling the flash should work with all digital SLRs. Just set the white balance to whatever the ambient light is -- fluorescent or incandescent (not flash), and you're good to go. Point-and-shoots are a bit more uncertain. Some point and shoot cameras override any manual white balance setting and revert to the flash setting when the flash is used. If that happens, your filter would be the problem, not the solution.