Rosco CalColor: The "Whatever You Want it to Be" Gels

At this point, most of us are probably pretty familiar with the gel fixes for fluorescent and tungsten ambient light situations. And for the trickier sources, you can check Rosco's free FIlter Facts booklet to learn what filter combinations can be used to balance lights such as sodium- or mercury vapor, etc.

But what about really weird, non-standard lighting environments, like a high school gym with sodium vapors and a brightly colored wall affecting the overall ambient color?

There's a gel kit for that, too.

CalColor = Chameleon

CalColor is a calibrated set of gels that can turn the light from your flash into any color you want. It is a stadardized set of color gels, in varying strengths, from all around the color wheel. By combining the gels you can dial in your flash just about anywhere.

This can be used to balance your flash for any color of ambient, too. First, you would do a custom white balance for your ambient. Then you add your (ungelled) flash to the scene.

Finally, you would build a "color pack" for your flash until you created the equivalent of white light in the new white balance. You can do it by eye, using your TFT screen as a guide. Essentially, you'll be building the complimentary color of the ambient light you have just balanced for.

Sadly, this could be an automated process if Nikon and Canon would merely share the information which is already inside your camera. But nope.

By stacking the gels (which come in several different densities in blue, cyan, green, yellow, red, magenta, pink, lavender) you can easily make any color. If you shoot in the same weird environment a lot -- such as that high school gym -- just make note of your color pack combo and it is an instant fix next time you shoot there.

The packs are about $50, but they are big enough (10x12") to easily create at least a dozen or so full sets when cut to speedlight size. In fact, I cut my pack big enough to cover a Profoto standard reflector and made several full speedlight sets with the scrap material.

:: Rosco: CalColor Kit ::


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Blogger David Porter said...

"Sadly, this could be "....

Sad but true, so many good ideas on how to make their products better and they don't seem to be listening too well.

January 20, 2011 3:19 PM  
Blogger kevin said...

We just received in the Rosco CalColor Kit here at Midwest. We are running a special sale for strobist readers: $42.50! Call the store or online at, Item code: VDP1047. Or click here:

January 20, 2011 4:03 PM  
Blogger kevin said...

Correction, click here:,17054.html for the Rosco CalColor Kit

January 20, 2011 4:04 PM  
Blogger Puggle said...

Hi David,

I'm still learning, so this is an excellent post on something that has baffled me. Thank you!

I was wondering if you know about this new Sekonic color temperature measurement device, (, and how well it works and if it has a place in this system of gels?

Looks to me like it's not needed.

Can you offer some insight on it?

January 20, 2011 4:39 PM  
Blogger bobfoto said...

Maybe it is time for an EECB to the camera manufacturers.

An EECB is an "Executive Email Carpet Bomb" to illustrate the point to the bigwigs.

Here is a link to "The Consumerist" website that explains the details of how to do an EECB

Maybe David could do a bit of detective work on the email formats and provide some names for the bigwigs at the various companies.

January 20, 2011 4:48 PM  
Blogger nolaphoto said...

Even if the camera displayed the custom WB number on the screen when you press play, you could take a WB shot and then go back and look and choose your gels from a cheat sheet..You can see the custom WB number when you edit in raw, so it would be just a matter of displaying that metadata on the screen. Is there no iPhone/android app for WB?

January 20, 2011 6:44 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Sounds great, but I imagine you lose a lot of power if you combine more than two gels.

The problem I have with HS gyms isn't the weird color of their lights (although it generally sucks). The bigger problem--especially in older gyms--is that the lights continuously flicker in different color temperatures. You can't see it with the naked eye, but you sure notice it in the photos.

January 21, 2011 1:43 AM  
Blogger Stuart Mackenzie said...

You already lose light (do I recall correctly that it is around a stop?) with the colour correct gels we commonly use

Surely if you start stacking gels to get a desired colour are you not also going to start losing even more light as the gel absorbs it?

Does this not affect the usability of these kits when using speedlites?

January 21, 2011 5:27 AM  
Blogger said...

I want a tool to check WB easily - I want to know which gel should be used and what temperature should be set in cam. And I want it ASAP ;)

Is there any option? ...

(Android app would be just perfect :))

January 21, 2011 6:48 AM  
Blogger imnophotog said...

What a nice idea! To bad it's a bit too expensive, I would prefer a smaller-cheaper version (filter size for only two stroves or so). I'm sure there's people who think the way I do!

January 21, 2011 8:27 AM  
Blogger Joel Heffner said...

Wouldn't it be possible to custom make your own gel by creating your desired color and printing it on transparency film on your own printer?

January 21, 2011 9:10 AM  
Blogger kevin said...

@ Joel- Yes and No, yes you could create a gel from printing off a solid color on transparency film, but Rosco has done an excellent job of creating calibrated colors and adding a layer of heat resistant coating.

January 21, 2011 10:13 AM  
Blogger DanW said...

Matthew is right. It's a bit of a pain to have to figure out and deal with the color, but it is much worse that the lights vary in both color and intensity. Same is true in the 'Friday Night Lights' of older football stadiums. Capture a great sequence and each frame might be a different color and intensity. Or worse, because the multiple light sources are not synchronized you might get a frame partially with one color cast and partially with another. Means you have to individually manipulate each image and that some otherwise great images with split color cast are nearly worthless.

January 21, 2011 11:52 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

It was noted, "I want a tool to check WB easily - I want to know which gel should be used."

You have one.

I always use my camera and the RGB histograms to pick my gels when matching artificial light. Also I generally do just fine with several different cuts each of CTO, Plus Green and Yellow. I have the CalColor gels et al, for correcting the flash to ambient but honestly CTO, Green and Yellow in different cuts cover 95% of the situations I encounter.

In a nutshell here is how I do it.

1. Use an Expodisk, coffee filter or even a white napkin or tissue over the lense (at full zoom) and set a custom white balance for the ambient light.

2. Now take a photo (autoexposure works fine for this) with the Expo/whatever still on the lense and confirm the white balance in the RGB histograms. The RGB peaks should each be at the same point on the horizonal scale. If they don't line up almost exactly, try again. Picture in review should look a neutral gray.

3. With the flash ungeled and off the camera, point it right at the lense (with expo/whatever) and snap another shot (ttl control for flash is fine, just be sure ambient isn't a factor). Look at the histograms. They will tell you how to gel the flash. If one color is low, add the similar color gel to bring it up. If one is high (typically blue) add the opposite color (yellow in the case of blue) and bring it down. This results in a lot less light loss than stacking lots of green and red/cto gels to bring down the blue.

4. Gel the flash and repeat step 3. After a bit of practice, one can look at the histograms and tell almost right away how much of each is needed to match the ambient. I generally get adequately close with just 1 or 2 attempts and darn near spot on with 2 or 3.

Essentially I don't care anymore what kind of lamps (assuming not a mix) are in the fixtures since I can match it in just a minute or two regardless of what it is.

Pretty easy and I am a bit surprised I never see photographers discussing or using this method on the various blogs. Have fun.


January 21, 2011 4:03 PM  
Blogger Mason Trullinger said...

There is a reason why few cameras have great auto white balance on more than 2 different types of light sources. It is not easy (cheap) to implement a reliable color meter. Look at any review on dpreview for a camera and on the AWB section few, if any, will have a good results in both tungsten and fluorescent.

There are a couple color meters on the market that are light light meters but output a specific kelvin temp of the light hitting it but they are in the $500+ range (new).

Ideally, we'd see those sort of meters built into camera bodies and flash bodies which would make selecting gels a no-brainer. Until then trial and error is the way to match exiting lighting to a gel or combination of gels.

January 21, 2011 4:27 PM  
Blogger John Rohde Jensen said...

@Bill. Please write some more. This is one of my REALLY sore points.

January 22, 2011 1:45 PM  
Blogger rickdallasphoto said...

Thanks for the reference David. I shoot a lot of indoor sports that are lit with discharge lamps. I've tried using custom WB for non flash shots. I have also had to wing it using manual kelvin settings and determining what gels I had to use to make everything look right. Not every lighting situation is the same and I hope this provides a good road map for gelling in future shoots.

January 23, 2011 9:22 AM  
Blogger Dwayne Chater said...

If you want to see some examples of calcolor in use Ian Pack in England has posted some examples using one flash

January 24, 2011 5:22 AM  
Blogger karinangelika said...

David Porter writes: "Sad but true, so many good ideas on how to make their products better and they don't seem to be listening too well."

Tell me about it! My best friend worked in the R&D division of one of them, was glad to listen to what photographers and videographers really need, gave plenty of brilliant ideas to management and was soundly ignored on all of them. She left in the end.

January 27, 2011 10:07 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I was intrigued by the fact that there seems to bee no "color reader" (for a lack of a better term) to suit the photographers need.

I found this :

If nikon is not answering, maybe Konica/Minolta will...

February 03, 2011 10:20 PM  

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