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When Do Real Estate Photographers Gel Flashes to Control White Balance?

Published: 31/05/2018

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Last week, there were two questions about gelling flashes. Tom on the Big Island asked:

For those who use interior flash, do you always or more often than not, gel the flash? I have been trying to get a better understanding of how to use gels.

I have seen videos that gel the flash to offset the different light sources in the room, with no mention of adjusting the white balance. I have seen others where they will adjust the white balance first (generally, make it bluer) and then gel the flash with the CTO (Color Temperature Orange) at 1/4 or 1/2. I believe that some of the CTOs have the recommended white balance on them.

I have never used gels but I see how they might be helpful in producing better-balanced flash shots vs. overpowering the different lamp color casts with higher flash power. My workflow is to do several flash shots at different exposures, followed by several ambient shots at different exposures, and then I put the images together in Photoshop. As an FYI, I generally turn the lights off, other than in windowless bathrooms, with the ambient shots to control the color casts. I do a lot of vacation rental condos (which generally have darker rooms/areas) and the same lamps in the same rooms always seem to have different types of bulbs!

Curious what others are doing.

This is a great question and my guess is that:

  1. Most real estate photographers who use flash don't gel their flashes to control white balance but they control white balance in Lightroom and Photoshop and blend multiple images; some flash and some ambient.
  2. Those who do gel their flashes do it as a result of becoming experienced with multiple flash lighting and wanting to raise the level of their work. Gelling flashes typically takes longer so it is not something high volume shooters are likely to do.

In researching this question I ran across this interesting post by David Hobby who points out that:

"Lighting and Photoshop are different because lighting is three-dimensional and Photoshop is two-dimensional."

He's saying that by gelling your flashes, you get a more realistic three-dimensional look than if you do all the white balance control within Lightroom and Photoshop.


Larry Lohrman

7 comments on “When Do Real Estate Photographers Gel Flashes to Control White Balance?”

  1. I use gels when I am matching lights inside a home or I want to create a warmer light source. Most of the time I am shooting with the lights off and that's generally pretty close to the color temp of a speedlight that I am not going use a gel to get the match perfect. If I am going to have light fixtures lit, I expose for them and make a separate frame that I will bring in with Photoshop as a luminosity layer so it doesn't affect the overall color temp and sometimes I will warm that layer up if the light looks too cold.

    I like to come back with images that are nearly done straight out of the camera, but there are things that are quicker to do in post. Matching color temps in the field precisely would take a tethered set-up and some back and forth changing of gels. That's just too much work on site for RE where you don't have a whole day to make just a few photos like you would with other types of work. RE customers are also not likely to be nit picking color variations unless they are very extreme.

    All of the gels in my kit that I take with me on RE jobs are warm and range from a light straw to 1/2 CTO.

  2. If there is connecting bathroom in the shot then I typically throw a 1/4 CTO to warm up that bathroom. Sometimes I will do the same for a connecting shot of the kitchen. Using Magmod gels make it simple to slap them on.

  3. That is an interesting quote about wb in the field. I have found it is probably better to gel light, especially "sunlight", in the field. However, we have to consider our audience or objective, same as a sprinter and long distance runner would consider theirs in planning.

    None of our clients are going to notice the subtle differences David was referring to in real estate, so i think its a moot point here, operating under our objectives.

    My advice would be take one of three paths: to stay away from gelling because it takes time and isn't necessary when using flash, leave a 1/4 cto always on your flash(es), or only gel twilight exteriors, which i find to be the only time i even come close to getting tripped up at all in post as far as mixing colors. And even then it isn't bad at all.

  4. I have been using CC gels over my flash heads since I started shooting annual reports and facility brochures back in the last 1970's and have found them very useful ever since. Since I don't use flash for RE it is no longer an issue. But if and when i do, I use them to balance the flash to the prevailing ambient lighting such as if I am shooting on a dull grey day and the interior lights are all nicely balanced at a tungsten level, then I add CC filters over the light head to match the prevailing the color balance of the existing lighting. Especially useful when the prevailing lighting is fluorescent. I don't find it adds any time to the shoot. Just a little gaffer's tape and in 5 seconds its in place. Even easier with the little battery flashes than my Normal heads with reflectors but I have my gels already cut round with a hole for the umbrella shaft.

    I have had my Olsen gels for years but I believe that Rosco now makes them

    But as I say I don't use flash especially now that I am using my new Sony A-6500 that seems much more forgiving than my Canon 80D. And I also use my old Minolta color meter to read the light color and it does a great job with mixed lighting achieving a good balance so I seldom now have to do color adjustment in post. Plus I am using the Rokinon 12mm fixed focal length lens with it and it really doesn't need lens correction although I have that set as a preset or action, in Photoshop, anyway for the pincushion effect rather than to deal with curved lines at the outside of the image area. Have to correct for verticals of course. I had forgotten how great these non-zoom lenses are. Sharp as a tack over the full image area too.

    I think these visual corrections are more important for RE than getting all lighting exactly the same color as a general rule but with exceptions. For architecture photography that is a different discussion.

  5. I don't use gels or anything else to control color, opting to 'fix' in LR and PS instead.

    One thing I am considering is packing along a good supply of daylight bulbs to temporarily change out before the shoot!
    Nothing worse than walking into a listing to see various colors of light. I especially hate the green tint ones!

  6. I gel my flashes, and yes it's time consuming so now that I read these posts I'm considering abandoning that practice. Having said that, I use Lee filters "Daylight to Tungsten" Lighting Pack. The gels are labeled according to color temperature (3200, 2600, 3800, 4600 and 5500K). I trim them down to fit in my Gel Holders that I velcro to my speedlites. I select the appropriate color to match the color of the room determined by my expodisc or more often just experience. My camera's white balance is set at the same color temperature.

  7. I normally only use gels when shooting an evening shoot, to add fill flash with a Rosco conversion filter.

    Last week I shot a large 4000sq ft. condo in the downtown area for a twilight/evening shot and used a gel to add to my fill flash to match the interior lighting. when I got it into Lightroom, I thought it was too warm and had to correct it in post. I should have left the gel off. I always notice that most properties have so many different temperature bulbs, that its hard match the flash exactly.

    Nikon flash units (SB-800, SB-700 and SB-900) used to give you a few correcting lenses to fit over the flash lens, which sometimes help you come closer to the available light, but I've found that taping a Rosco filter over the flash was a better fix.

    Lately, on my day shoots, I have been keeping the lights off. some of my agents fight me on this, but more and more are ok with it.

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