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Gels and Light Diffusion

Daniel Hayek
November 11, 2011 by Daniel Hayek Alum

Hey there budding videographer, let’s talks about gels and diffusion. No, I’m not referring to the hair grooming habits of the guys from the Jersey Shore series, but rather using simple pieces of plastic to filter light and make your videos look better.

Gels are pieces of colored plastic that allow light to pass through, but change the color tone of the light itself. Diffusion, while similar, has a different purpose, reducing harsh shadows by softening the light. By increasing the surface area over which your light is emitted, you get less of a headlight effect, and that’s generally a good thing. Strong, harsh lighting can be used for dramatic effects, but in most scenarios you’ll want to soften it up to make your scene look more natural. Now, let’s jump-start this discussion with an overview by Scott Spears from Framelines TV.


Scott goes over some important points, so let’s review them a bit. First, getting your color temperature is really important, as we’ve mentioned in previous lessons on white balance. One of the ways gels can help is if if you’re shooting a scene with a mixture indoor and outdoor lighting. With colored gels you can match to indoor or outdoor lighting. Remember blue gels will give a cool look while orange gels will warm up your light, match accordingly!

Gels are also handy when you want to simulate lighting conditions. For example with enough warm colored gels (primarily oranges and reds), you can give your scene a sunset/sunrise look or alternatively with enough blue gels and a bit of underexposure you simulate moonlight. Also note, sometimes green gels are used to convey a feeling of unease or sickness. Additionally you can also use neutral density gels, which won’t change the color of the light but will help take down the light intensity, which is helpful in small quarters with bright lights. For more about neutral density, check out this lesson.


p>Now let’s go over some general ideas about diffusion. Why diffuse it all? Well, light is great and all, but you need to soften it or you end up with harsh distracting shadows and reflections. Like we discussed in our paper lantern lighting lesson, strong light is good but it needs to be tempered. By spreading that light over a greater surface area you soften up the quality of the light so actors and objects will appear more natural. Diffusion comes in different thicknesses which will make the light correspondingly softer or stronger.

Let’s finish up with a simple example you can try anywhere-

This image of myself and Steve Niebauer enjoying some ice tea was taken by Andrea. In order to get the color tones warmer and the light intensity less harsh than with a typical flash, a glass of whiskey was held up in front of the camera flash. We call it the whiskey filter but it’s kind of like a gel and diffusion effect blended together that makes for an interesting stylized shot.

Well now you know, the next time your scene lighting needs a little something, consider changing up the color and/or light intensity with some gels or diffusion.



Some good whisky makes everything look better - nice job - great tut - THX t(°v°t)

Larry Darian

Aha, hahaha....Love it, Tutor.

I'm a bit astounded w/ all this. I'd like to get started, but I have old SONY-ANALOG 8-mm. Cassettes in
a very high end machine; probably the last of their king--lithium battery (SWELL BATTERIES!!). Can I make do w/ this non-electronic? I do have some 5-yr. & 10-yr. old hardware which can process analog
video & record it to Hard-Drive, etc. I also have a very cheap (About $25) generic electronic video cam.
I've NEVER USED IT!.... should I: Sometimes, judging a thing by price alone is wrong. Advice appreciated: Write to: "" & Thanks, LARRY DARIAN.

Owen Dai

fully explained the gels and diffusion's meaning. why people use it how to used it. ~~~ well explanation red, blue , green , orange, white. that they can do. good job. thank your.

Stephanie Carr

Love this. I learned a lot about this(gels /filters) while my own video was being shot. Ah, the things that can be done with just a few sheets of colored plastic! :)Great article.

Kaushik Ray

Explained with utmost simplicity enabling even a novice to learn easily!!!

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