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Lighting 103: Prerequisites and Supplies

Abstract: Here's what you'll need—and what you need to know—before starting Lighting 103.

Lighting 103 is about color. We'll be weaning ourselves from the stock, unnatural white light that comes out of your bare speedlights. At a minimum, you'll be working with two flashes. We'll be blending colors in highlight and shadows, so you really won't be able to get through it with just a single speedlight.

A basic, value two-light kit will suffice. But FYI, we'll also be stretching into more lights in some examples. You can get good advice on a two-light—or perhaps add-a-light to your current bag—here, in Lighting 102.

Speaking of that, it stands to reason that you should also be familiar with the concepts in Lighting 101 and 102 before starting Lighting 103. So if you need to catch up (or brush up) you should start here.

You're Gonna Need Some Gels

My recommendation is that speedlight users start out with small-sized packets of the most useful gels. You can graduate to larger sheets later if necessary. Rosco (the world's leading gel manufacturer) makes three kits that will prove very useful. They are all between $20 and $25 in the speedlight size.

They also sell the kits in 12" x 12" size. These are more economical per square inch, but they are often harder to find. If needed, you can also buy individual gels in 20"x24" sheets, or even giant rolls. But for speedlight users, the little kits will suffice.

The links below are US-based. If you need to find a Rosco dealer in another country, you can do so here.

Three Useful Kits

The first and most universal kit I recommend is the Rosco Strobist Collection v2 Flash Pack. It's named after this site because I helped to choose the colors that are included.

And no, before you ask, I don't get a cut. I actually worked with Rosco after this site's readership almost single-handedly mooched the company's sample swatch program out of existence. So they named the kit after the site. That's the extent of the arrangement.

This kit has all the most useful gels, in multiple copies, in a little box case with thick rubber bands for mounting. There are even a few neutral density gels that can knock your speedlight output down to about 1/512 power when needed. Whichever way you go, I recommend this as the most useful kit for most of you.

The choice of additional kits depends on what you are most likely to be shooting. For those who photograph fashion/glamour/beauty, consider the Rosco Beauty Flash Pack (seen above in speedlight size) as a second gel kit.

As we'll soon see, the first thing we often learn when working with gels is to warm our key light. And that usually means choosing a more generic warming gel, such as a Rosco 08 or 1/4 CTO (both included in the Strobist gel pack) to accomplish that.

The R08 and 1/4 CTOs are fine, and distinctly different. But compared to the choices in the Rosco Beauty Kit, they are a blunt tool. The beauty kit includes a selection of subtly different hues designed for enhancing skin tones. Generally, this involves a varying amount of red and/or amber intensity, to allow you to choose a subtly altered key that brings out the best in your given subject's skin. (Think of it as Photoshop that works in 3D.)

One annoying thing about this kit (especially) and the others (less so) is that the gels are not individually labelled. With these subtly different gels, that can be a problem if you are looking for a consistent solution. Fortunately, they put the gels in the boxes in the order that they are listed on the outside and guide cards. So you can label them with a Sharpie, and henceforth know what you are pulling out of the box.

A third option I will recommend is Rosco's CalColor® Flash Pack. With a CalColor® kit, you can make most any color gel you need.

Fun fact: this gel kit is actually patented. That's because the kit is a system of primary and secondary colors, calibrated to different strengths. With it, you can explore colors that go beyond your typical CTOs and CTBs. (I'm presently indulging my cyan phase...)

Combined with a Strobist gel pack, the CalColor® pack gives you access to the whole spectrum of pure and combined colors. And remember, you don't necessarily have to use them alone. You can push that cyan a little more towards blue by adding, say, a 10 Blue gel to a 20 Cyan gel.

Put into Photoshop terms, the CalColor® kit is literally like a Hue and Saturation function for each individual light in your scene.

L103's Companion Text

Of all of the photographers in my "Inspiration" folder in my browser, the one with probably the very best observational and practical color chops is Gregory Heisler. I'm lucky enough to count him as a friend, and we will be hearing from him later in L103.

To that end, I would strongly suggest that you pick up his book, 50 Portraits. Not only is it a fantastic book with many layers of information that will help any photographer's portraiture, we'll also be sending you there for parallel reading suggestions throughout the course.

Most long-time readers of this site probably already own this book. If you do not have it, let me put it this way: for a people shooter, it's probably the best $32 you'll ever spend. The pictures are amazing. The text is better.

Not only will Greg be an occasional voice throughout L103, but we'll also be getting some diversity of experience from theatre: Photographer/lighting designer Lucas Krech will be dropping in for a little bit of different perspective.

One Last Thing

Lighting 103 lessons will be posting live throughout 2017. If you want to follow live, you should defintely be signed up for email updates. (They are infrequent, and I do not sell or spam.)

Since Strobist changed in 2014 from a 2x/weekly blog to a more knowledge-base footing, many new additions and updates are not mentioned on the front page. Email subscribers will receive links to the new lessons as they publish.

Next: How to Safely Gel a Speedlight


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