Whether you’re shooting photos or videos, getting accurate colors is crucial for creating professional, appealing results. But lighting conditions don’t always cooperate, and you’re left with ugly color casts or scenes that just don’t look natural.
That’s where gel filters come to the rescue! These thin colored sheets can be attached to your camera or lighting and provide precise color modifications to get scenes looking their best. But with so many gel options out there, how do you know which are the best for color correction?
In this photo blog, we’ll be exploring the top 5 gel filter recommendations for balancing colors and fixing color casts. You’ll learn the ideal situations for using each filter, their pros and cons, and see real before and after examples showing these gels in action.
If you want to gain total control over the colors in your images and videos, then adding these versatile gel filters to your toolkit is a must! Let’s dive in and up your color correction game.
A Brief Introduction to Using Gels for Color Control
Before jumping into the top gel filter picks, let’s look at what exactly these colored filters are and how they manipulate light.
Gel filters, also called color correction gels or color effect gels, are thin, translucent sheets of plastic or polycarbonate that professional photographers and videographers attach over their light sources to alter the color quality of the emitted light.
They come in a wide range of standardized colors and densities, and work by absorbing or blocking certain wavelengths of the visible color spectrum while allowing others to pass through. This subtractive color mixing lets you transform the look of scenes with just a single gel.
Some key color theory principles that are helpful to understand when working with gels:
- Color temperature – this refers to the warmness or coolness of light, measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Lower K values are warmer, while higher values are cooler blue and white light.
- Tint – the amount of green or magenta in a light source, which affects the overall color cast.
- Saturation – the intensity and richness of colors. Filters lower saturation by absorbing more light.
By manipulating these core attributes, gels can effectively neutralize or remove color casts, create color effects for stylistic purposes, or match the color between multiple light sources. Now let’s look at how to choose the right gel filter for your needs.
Factors to Consider When Selecting Gel Filters
With hundreds of gel filter options out there, it can be tricky to decide which ones are right for your shoot and lighting scenario. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:
- Existing light color and color temperature – Analyze the lighting you already have on location so you know what color issues need correction. Is it very warm, cool, green, magenta, etc?
- Your goals – Are you looking to balance multiple lights, enhance color accuracy, create a stylized effect, or meet a certain final color temperature? This determines if you need a subtle correction gel or something more bold.
- Color correction gels vs. creative effect gels – Make sure you select a filter designed for either balancing and correction or more extreme creative impact. These are formulated differently.
- Gel density – Lighter (lower) densities cause subtler changes, while heavier (higher) densities create more dramatic modifications for intense lighting mismatches.
- Testing gels beforehand – Try out gels and compare results before committing to the best option. Appearances can vary on camera vs. in person.
Keeping these factors in mind will ensure you choose the right gel filter for the job!
The Top 5 Gel Filters for Color Correction and Adjustment
Now that you know how to select the ideal gel filter, let’s look at the top recommendations in 5 key color categories.
1. CTO – Balancing Cooler Light Sources
Color Temperature Orange gel filters lower color temperature and add warmth to a scene. They counteract the bluish, cool lighting from daylight or electronic flash.
- Balancing midday sun or flash with warm artificial light indoors
- Warming subjects lit by open shade or overcast sky
- Matching the color temperature of tungsten and flash lighting
- Provides a neutral, balanced look with mixed lighting
- Warms up skin tones that look too blue or cold
- Can mute blues and greens too much if too strong of a gel is used
2. CTB – Balancing Warmer Light Sources
Color Temperature Blue gels raise color temperature and add coolness to a scene. They counteract the yellow/orange light from tungsten bulbs or at sunrise/sunset.
- Balancing incandescent or sunrise lighting with daylight
- Matching lighting to the cool look of shade or open sky
- Neutralizing scenes where sunlight reflects warmly off buildings or pavement
- Removes warm color casts for accurate, natural colors
- Makes lighting consistently blue across multiple sources
- Can desaturate warm colors like yellows, oranges and reds too much
3. Plus Green – Neutralizing Magenta Color Casts
The Plus Green gel reduces magenta or pink color casts from some light sources. It’s essentially the opposite of a minus green filter.
- Balancing magenta-leaning fluorescent or LED lights
- Correcting purple fringing from lenses
- Neutralizing pink sunsets or blue hour lighting
- Removes strong magenta casts from modern light sources
- Makes greens properly saturated and vivid
- Can dilute bold magenta colors like fuchsia too much
- Not useful if there is no unwanted magenta in scene
4. Minus Green – Neutralizing Green Color Casts
The Minus Green gel is the opposite of the Plus Green filter. It reduces green color casts from some light sources.
- Balancing green-leaning fluorescent or mercury vapor lights
- Correcting green color fringing from lenses
- Neutralizing green color casts from foliage reflections
- Removes unwanted green casts from artificial lights
- Makes reds and magentas properly vivid and saturated
- Can reduce natural green colors too much if overdone
- Not useful if no green color cast needs removal
5. Straw/Yellow – Warming While Retaining Highlights
Straw or Yellow gels add warmth while still allowing blue highlights to retain punch and pop. They provide a nice balance.
- Warming subjects while keeping skintones bright
- Adding richness without overly saturating warm tones
- Retaining highlight sparkle in blue skies, water, eyes, etc.
- Warms with subtlety and retaining vibrant colors
- Prevents highlights from blowing out or losing detail
- Won’t fully correct strong blue color casts from cool lighting
FAQ – Common Gel Filter Questions Answered
If you’re new to using gels, here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
How do you securely attach gels? Use gaffer’s tape on the edges of gels, spring clamps, gel holders, and filter frames to affix them to lights without adhesives touching the gel itself.
What light intensity loss occurs with gels? Most correction gels cut up to a stop of light or less. Higher density creative gels can cut 2 stops or more.
Can you layer multiple gels? Yes, you can combine gels for more nuanced color balancing. But limit layers to 2-3 for sufficient light transmission.
What are good gel brands and sources to buy from?
Rosco, Lee Filters and GamColor are top professional gel brands. Buy from photography retailers or rental houses.
How can you modify gels if an exact color match isn’t available? Use gel diffusion sheets or mix the gel color with a neutral density filter to tweak the strength.
Achieve Natural, Balanced Colors with Custom Gel Correction
After reading this guide, you should have a much better understanding of the top gel filter options for precision color control and correcting lighting mismatches.
Small gel sheets provide a simple and affordable way to gain complete mastery over color in your images and videos with almost surgical precision. Take time to experiment with gels and see just how much they can enhance and perfect the lighting for your unique shoots.
Whether you need to subtly balance mixed lights or want creatively stylized colors, keep these gel filter recommendations in mind. And don’t be afraid to combine gels for customized correction – the options are endless!
What topics related to gel filters would you like to see covered next? Let us know if you have any other color correction questions!