UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021.
(Here is what I am up to now.)


Rosco Thinks Big by Thinking Small

Okay, so maybe I am predisposed to like this new gel kit, what with that catchy name and all. But this was the result of a very organic collaboration between a web community and an existing business, in which we were both the problem and the solution.

Basically, too much of a good thing almost made the good thing go away. Then we saved it by making the good thing better.

A Little Backstory

Rosco has long had a sample program, wherein they give away packs of gels that are sized to do a serviceable job as small flash gels.

As long as you extend them a little (and don't mind the spindle hole) you can surf the whole rainbow for free if you can get your mitts on a pack or two. This program chugged along just fine, with the sample packs serving as a nice gateway drug for the full-sized, $7 20x24-inch sheets.

After all, how useful is a sample gel for a ProPhoto shooter? Not very.

But people were always quietly using the sample packs for small flashes, holes or no holes. You'd use the "good" gels and chuck the rest. A little wasteful, but what the hell -- they're free, right?

And that works fine, as long as some bonehead doesn't come along and send a gazillion people emailing in for free sample packs. Which is exactly what happened.

They went from losing an acceptable amount of money to losing way, way too much money on the free samples. Just because the gels were free to us does not mean they were free for Rosco. Ditto the multiple, full-time positions they had dedicated to cutting and assembling them. (Heck, I thought they had, like, a replicator or something ... )

So, about a year ago the sample program was put on the chopping block. Which was, of course, the worst possible outcome. So I got in touch with a man named Joel Svendsen at Rosco, and we put our heads together to come up with a solution.

The Strobist Collection

So, there it is. There are 55 gels in all -- multiple copies of the really useful ones, with no holes. (Only single copies are shown here, for illustration of color selection.) The kit is $9.95, suggested retail price. And while $9.95 is not as good as free, free was not going to keep happening.

There have been several parties -- individuals like Mason Trullinger and stores like MPEX -- buying big gels and cutting them into kits for resale. But the scale was not sufficient to offset the problem of the demand for increasingly expensive free samples.

With this kit (not free but still chump change on the photo gear scale) we go from nearly exploiting a situation to death to sustaining it. I think this is a fantastic solution by Rosco, as they were full ready to kill the sample program before we got them to think about it differently.

Because of the multiple copies of the most-used gels, one kit should last several times longer than a typical sample pack. And this is an honest transactional model which is sustainable for Rosco, for photo retailers and for small-flash photographers.

Plus, I'm gonna make an absolute killing in licensing fees.


Actually I am not getting any money from Rosco, because licensing fees paid by them at the OEM level would be roughly tripled by the time they were passed through a distributor and on to retail. Futher, Strobist has committed to advertising support for the project in the form of 3,000,000 free pageviews for a banner ad for the packs. I want to see them succeed and I hope you'll support them, too.

Which Colors, and Why

A lot of thought went into the color and frequency selection, and I think we did a good job with it.

Five each:

• Full-cut, half and quarter CTO's and CTB's. In addition to their primary use as light balancing gels, this provides a calibrated warm-up/cool-down capability. Additionally, they offset each other (in identical strengths) for cool/warm dual lighting. Where both lights hit, the light is neutral, but shadows from each light are warm or cool. (Neat building blocks for cool portraiture or conceptual product/still life. CTO's and CTB's are among the most useful gels in the Rosco library.

• Rosco 08 - The classic gel for skin on a key light. Once you shoot skin with a slight warming gel, you will never go back. I go back and forth between this and a 1/8 CTO, but I think the #08 is better. Leave your camera WB on daylight and warm the key light. Why warm the whole frame, ambient and all, by WB'ing to flash setting? Warm just the subject and leave those background skies blue.

• Tough Plusgreen - For balancing with cool fluorescents. In a pinch, this can be combined with varying degrees of CTO warming gels (see above) to balance with warmer fluorescents.

[NOTE: In this setup, your photos would be warm, overall. But the flash and FL's would be consistent, which is the important thing. You then shift it all to neutral in post. And besides, I have a an idea for an all-in solution for flash and *any* color of light source coming shortly. Stay tuned.]

Two each:

• N9, N6 and N15 neutral density (ND) filters -- These will make any manual flash more useful. In 1/2-, 2- and 3-stop strengths, you can turn a full-power-only eBay special flash into a useful unit. Also, flashes with full-stop manual setting (Vivitar 285, LumoPro LP120, etc.) get partial-stop fine tuning. Most important, you can now take any variable-manual flash way down below 1/128th power, for killing unneeded power for close-up work.

One each:

Sometimes you gotta add a little more cowbell to kick it up a notch. While I had a strong hand in choosing the above gels, the folks at Rosco took the lead on selecting nine different colors for adding strong effects when you need them. These guys know color and lighting, and I happily deferred to their expertise here.

UPDATE: Even tho the Rosco site lists them as 1"x3", they are actually 1.5"x3.25". This is straight from the horse's mouth. FWIW, Rosco mistakenly forwarded the dimensions of an old sample pack when doing the page. Please use the bigger measurement when checking to see if the gels will cover your particular model of strobe.

Available Now

Rosco already has a network of U.S. dealers stocking the gels, and you can see where to get them (and the colors they chose for the effects gels) here. In the UK/EU, The Flash Centre will be carrying them too. I'll post a link when they are up and running.

Thanks for helping to spread the word. And if your local dealer carries Rosco gels, feel free to suggest that they consider us small-flash shooters and get onboard.


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