FIELD TECHNIQUE: Add a Flash of Color

Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

There are several ways to add more color to your photos. Nowadays, that usually involves any number of amazing things that can be done in post. But if your computer skills are lacking or you’re old school and prefer to create your masterpieces in-camera, there is a quick and easy method for adding a touch of color using flash gels.

Many methods are available to attach gels to a flash head. I use a LumiQuest FXtra Gel Holder that attaches to the head via Velcro strips. There are lots of colors to choose from, but you’ll probably want to use the red gel to get the most realistic results. Also, if you are shooting flowers, look for those that are white or light colored for more impact.

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© F.M. Kearney

kearney-top-rightThese before and after images of Peruvian lilies show what can be done when the red gel is applied lightly. You want to add only a hint of color, not completely change it. Even if your flash is set to “Fill,” dial down its power output to about -0.7. This is very important when using the red gel, which can be overpowering if not kept in check. When just the right amount of color is applied, you will create the illusion of early morning or late afternoon light.

As with most subjects, flowers look best when lit at an angle. This will add more depth and eliminate that direct, flat-light look. Take the flash off-camera and hold it either to the left, right, above or below the subject—whichever position produces the most dynamic result. To maintain TTL-flash capability, use a remote cord, such as the Nikon SC-17. If the winds are calm, try a double exposure and aim the flash at opposite sides outfitted with two different colored gels for each exposure. In the winter, some pretty interesting effects can be created on icicles, and you don’t have to worry too much about the wind.

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© F.M. Kearney

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Flash gels can be effective on many other subjects as well. I wanted to add a splash of color to the bare spot on the tree on the right (above). I used a 50mm lens but zoomed the flash to 70mm in order to avoid discoloring the leaves. This created a natural-looking color that balanced nicely with the leaves on the ground.

Both the lilies and the tree were shot in overcast light, which tends to give off a bluish cast. Normally, this is easily resolved by changing your white balance to “cloudy,” which will give the image a warm amber tone. The only problem is that it’s applied to the entire image. The red flash gel is a great way to apply this tone to select portions of the scene.

You don’t need to be a Photoshop guru to add a little more color to your photos. Not only can it be done easily in the camera, but it can be done in a flash!


F.M. Kearney is a fine-art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, visit www.starlitecollection.com