Flash photography – Changing the background color with gels
One of the biggest challenges when working in a studio, is that you’re essentially shooting in a plain rectangular box. When photographing portraits, the two obvious ways out of that is to create an interesting (or complementary) background, and then to create interesting (or flattering) lighting.
The lighting itself need not be complex. For this series of portraits of Olive, I used the gridded 1′ x 6′ softbox. By swinging it horizontally or vertically (or diagonally), I can change the way the light falls on my subject and the background. This article on Chiaroscuro lighting is a good example. So with these portraits of Olive, I could easily control the light fall-off on her body with the tall gridded stripbox. (Btw, check out Olive’s Model Mayhem page. She’s a delight to work with.)
The main light on her was an easy fix this time. Now the background – I wanted to change the colors up to complement her clothing she’d change in. Instead of changing the rolls of paper-backdrop, it was much easier to light the background with a flash and colored gels. For this I used the MagMod2 basic kit (B&H / Amazon). To gel a flash there are numerous options, but I doubt any are as easy and quick to change as the Magmod setup – magnets clip the gel holder into place. Super-easy to place on the flash, and just as easy to take it off again. Magnets! I mentioned these in the recent post – Best & worst photography purchases of 2015.
The pull-back shot (shown further down) will show the mottled muslin backdrop that I used. The gels didn’t really add much light to the backdrop itself – the backdrop was there to help create a background that has some kind of texture.
To hold the color of the background gels, we used a Fog Machine (B&H / Amazon). It is inexpensive and fun to use. In the pullback shot you can see the remote cable for the smog machine on the floor – Olive would press this with a toe to release the fog while I was shooting a sequence. She’s quite versatile as a model! The fog then created the dreamy texture, and showed the color of the gelled flash.
All of this added up to different backgrounds. The fog gave a non-static background from image to image, and the gels would give different colors with different sequences.
For this pull-back shot, I used the studio’s room lighting to show how the different elements were placed.
On the left, the gridded Profoto RFi 1’×6’ softbox (affiliate), as the main light. I could swing and rotate this as I needed. The light-stand is on caster wheels, so it was easy to its position a bit.
The Fog Machine (affiliate) is on the right, placed on the step-ladder. The fog would blow into the area behind Olive, towards the background flash. The flash on the floor in the background, had the MagMod gels (affiliate), and was pointed up towards Olive.
A relatively simple setup, providing a different look to every sequence we photographed.
Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session
- Nikon D810
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II /equivalent: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- MagMod2 basic kit (B&H / Amazon)
- Fog Machine (B&H / Amazon)
- Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws studio light
- Profoto RFi 1’×6’ softbox w/ grid
- Image projection effects in the studio (model: Olena)
- In-camera special effects with gobo projection (model: Viktoria)
- Studio lighting – Influences & inspiration (model: Viktoria)
- Portrait lighting setup – Chiaroscuro (model: Frankie)
- Using a big gridded strip-box / soft-box (model: Anita DeBauch)
- Studio Photography Workshops
Studio lighting workshops
If you are interested in learning more about studio lighting, including lighting for headshots, I offer workshops on studio lighting. The workshops will be held at my studio space in NJ, and it has a wide range of studio lighting gear to play with!