If you’ve never come across the term lighting gels before, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s some sort of coagulated substance smeared onto a flash in some way. Instead, lighting gels are translucent, colored sheets of material that change the characteristics of a light source. These can be applied to a light source for many reasons, such as a color effect, color correction, or even for diffusion.
As these things are used for anything from TV to live events, they can be purchased in all shapes, sizes, and colors, depending on the application. For general photography, lighting gels are generally used as a color effect or for light correction. For example, you want a blue background or a red hue around a subject’s hairline, you simply strap a lighting gel to the front of your lighting source.
As photographers predominantly use on-camera flashes or studio strobes as lighting sources, pre-cut and shaped gels are the first option. These are made-to-measure and quickly attach to a flashgun or strobe, making it easy to swap them out or stack up.
It’s common to have a stack of lighting gels at hand, as it is usually down to on-the-job experimentation for which colored gels are needed. Luckily, even for the highest quality versions, they are inexpensive and can be provided with additional extras such as attachment methods and handy carrying cases.
1. Rogue Flash Gels: Combo Filter Kit (Overall Winner)
The Rogue Flash Gels Combo Filter Kit is everything you need to dive into the wonderful world of color effects and correction. The package contains 20 different colored gels covering correction and color filters.
The correction filters range from Full CTO (6500K to 3200K) to 1/4 CTO (6500K to 4600K), plus 1/2 CTB (color temperature blue), green, and Heavy Frost Diffusion versions. The color filters cover the full spectrum of colors from yellows, reds, greens, and blues, all with the LEE stamp of approval to show they are the best quality versions available.
Each gel is sufficiently sized, with handy tabs that fit around the head of a flashgun and are attached with the handy Gel band. Although the gel band may seem like a simple addition, it has been well thought out, with tabs on each side to set each gel carefully in place. This item itself will save you hunting around for elastic bands, which always seem to go on walkabout when they are most needed.
The kit also contains a smart little storage case for all the gels, making it a very well rounded offering at a reasonable price.
LEE filters are generally considered the standard by which others are measured. The only reason these are not in our number one spot is because they need to be cut to size. In all other respects, the package provides 24 10″x12″ sheets, covering the most common types of color and correcting filters.
Each filter is designated with its own LEE number so you know exactly what you are getting, with color-correcting filters including full CTB to a .6 ND filter and a basic range of colors. This pack also works out more expensive than smaller, individually cut gels. But if you are planning on using these on larger light sources or need to cut them down to size, you can’t get better quality.
The Rosco Photo Lighting Filter Kit has a number of high-quality gels, which includes 20 12 x 12″ sheets. The 20 different filters cover the most widely used lighting gels, including CTO (color temperature orange) versions for warming up a scene, CTB gels for cooling effects, neutral density filters, fluorescent gels, and a range of generic colors.
Just like the LEE Filters pack above, each filter will need to be cut down to size to fit a flashgun or studio strobe. On the upside, each sheet is large enough to wrap around a flashgun head and can be made into multiples. These can be either stacked up together or for multiple backups.
Anybody who is lucky enough to own a fancy pants studio strobe such as the Profoto B1, will at some point need a bunch of lighting gels. This is where the Profoto OCF Color Gel Starter Kit comes into play, providing not just lighting gels, but also a bunch of accessories.
Each kit contains a snap-on grid/gel holder, attachments, carrying case, and wallet for all the gels. A total of 10 lighting gels are included, five of these being color correcting and the other five for color effects. Each gel is labeled so you know exactly what you are using at any one time, while also being pre-cut and shaped.
Although there are only 10 gels in the kit, they cover the most common bases. With the included holder making it a cinch to fit and swap out each gel. The kit may also seem quite expensive compared to the rest on this list, but you will have the peace of mind that this is a ready-to-use setup, with the assurance of Profoto quality.
5. Neewer 24 Pieces Camera Flash Speedlite Lighting Color Gel Filter Kit (Budget Winner)
It’s quite remarkable that the Neewer 24 Pieces Camera Flash Speedlite Lighting Color Gel Filter Kit can be picked up for so cheap and still provide loads of color effect fun. The full kit contains 24 color filters, an attachment band, and a carrying case.
Each gel is shaped to snugly fit around a typical flashgun head, staying in place with the very useful attachment band. The 24 variations of colored gels won’t leave you wanting, covering a wide spectrum of colors, especially at this price point.
You may be wondering why you would buy the more expensive versions, rather than this kit, considering how cheap it is. The simple answer is that this kit doesn’t contain any of the fancy color-correcting gels, which are generally more expensive.
Therefore, if you just need lighting gels for basic color effects, you can’t go wrong with the Neewer kit.
Lighting up Your Photos With the Best Lighting Gels
Lighting gels are such versatile accessories, which can be used for very serious color correcting work or add to fun color effects. As shown by the Neewer kit, you don’t have to spend a large amount if it’s only the color effect you need. Advanced light correcting gels such as polarizing film and ND filters can start to ramp up the price, but if you buy them at a small enough size, these can still be cost-effective.
Like any lighting effect, it’s easy to go overboard when using colored gels. Too much colored lighting can easily make a scene or subject look like a 70’s Sci-fi B movie, unless that’s your aim. Thus, like any lighting effect, experimentation and experience is key.