There are a lot of things to keep track of when learning flash photography. Color is often overlooked. Changing the background color relative to your subject can increase the impact of your images. You can change the color of many objects with a simple gel placed in front of your flash.
Last fall, Josh and I photographed a gaming convention. We photographed the event for marketing. In our spare time, we set up a photo-booth for the cosplayers. Rather than carry a variety of background paper and have to deal with switching them out, we brought a single 9′ roll of gray paper and changed the colors of the lights instead. Bonus: changing a flash gel is much easier and faster than changing the background paper.
Learning Flash Photography: Gray is Any Color
Gray, like white or black, reflects all visible colors equally.
white = gray = black
That seems strange at first, especially if you are just learning flash photography. But, they are all the same “color” at different brightness’s. Shine enough light on a black background and you get gray or white. Keep light off white and it turns gray or black. Since gray reflects all visible colors equally, it appears the same color as the light shined on it. Shine a green light on a gray and you get green. Shine red on it, and you get red.
Imperial Guards wear red. The choice of background color would seem obvious, but I actually tried blue first under the theory that it is complimentary. It didn’t work.
Red was the right choice. The Imperial Guard are pretty bloody minded and focused on one thing. Red on red emphasized that single mindedness. I gelled the background light red and left the key light un-gelled (normal 5500k daylight).
Controlling Light Spill
To shift background color using gels, make sure only light of the intended color hits the background. Any daylight colored light hitting the background would wash out the red and make it less saturated. We were working in a tight space. Our area was barely deep enough to keep the subject away from the background paper and still be able to back up enough to frame them full body portrait at 70mm.
The lack of physical space made keeping the key light spill off the background hard. It limited where we could put the key-light. A soft-box shines in all directions from the front diffuser unless a grid is used. We didn’t have one with us. All of that limited how we could light the subject.
Luckily, I wanted overhead light. I boomed the light over the subject and tilted it away from the background and slightly towards the cameras. The angle of the light and the relative light levels meant it didn’t hit the background enough to matter. Had I wanted a more front on light, spill would have hit the background and the image would not have worked.
The Imperial Guard’s helmet is shiny and curved. It reflected the soft-box in many places. Most of the post processing for this image was removing the reflections of the softbox and other unwanted highlights that broke up the image. Other than removing the unwanted highlights, I tweaked the tone curve to get the look I wanted. Here is the image with only basic raw adjustments:
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.