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Creating Impact with Color Gels

Lesson 2 of 11

Why Use Manual Mode?

Alexis Cuarezma

Creating Impact with Color Gels

Alexis Cuarezma

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Lesson Info

2. Why Use Manual Mode?


Lesson Info

Why Use Manual Mode?

So, why use manual mode? I shoot manual mode for everything and I use all kinds of cameras. I use Canon when I'm under the gun and I need to do a shoot 'cause sometimes with the talent that I photograph, I only have a few minutes with them. I've done photo shoots that are only 30 seconds long. So, Canon and digital and zoom lenses are real quick. You don't have to waste time. But I shoot manual 'cause I don't like the camera to make a decision for me. I think, I always have a vision pre-visualized, and whenever I do a shoot, I think everything out, I do a list. I envision how I want it to look, and that's what I like to do. Shutter speed, your F-stop, all your camera settings that you have, in my opinion, they're all creative decisions, and I never let the camera decide that. I don't care what the camera thinks, especially white balance, like I was saying on that. So all these pictures here, this is some of my work, all these pictures were done with manual settings, 100% in the Kelvin.

These two were shot with the old, old Hasselblad camera, a 503CW. This one, too, as well, this one shot done in camera. That's all done in manual settings. None of it is auto. Again, this is other work that I do. Not athletes, obviously, but again, these are all well thought-out, the white balance, this is the same exact room right here, and I just switched it by switching the lighting a little bit. And this is, too, thought out. This is shot at 10,000 Kelvin, using the CTB Gel, which is the opposite of this. But again, all the work that I do is manual. So even like this, how many natural light shooters do we have in here, that love natural light? We have a couple, so we have this like that. So even your camera doesn't know anything about how you want your images to look, like right like this? This was shot 100% by strobes and that's the setup for this. So if you know how you want your image to look, you can make it look anywhere, like, this image could be done at night, this ISO 50, 1/200th of a second at F2A. Why is it at F2A with a long lens? Because I wanted it to look like natural light and that's how it looks like when you shoot in natural light and it's a little like that and this has a CTB Gel. If you look right here, there's a B2 light right here on the Boom, hittin' here right here to kinda mimic the hair light and then this is two lights shooting through a five by seven big softbox to provide a big kind of natural light source and then this right here, this provides a regular fill like a reflector would. And it's done like that and then when you go back here, hold on, let me go forward and in this light right here, right here is bouncing off this wall to light the back wall right there and make it more natural 'cause if that light wasn't there, this would be completely dark. So this is to make it look like this, let me go back, that's a five-light setup, if I had seven lights, so I could even make it look more natural. And the reason why you need so many lights is 'cause natural light does one thing that strobes don't do. Does anybody know what that is? Just even coverage everywhere. Yeah, very good. That's what natural light does that strobes don't do and is impossible to get is it doesn't fall off, right, 'cause the sun is 93 million miles away, so you get the same F-stop throughout anywhere and when it's cloudy you get nice even light everywhere, so in order to recreate that with strobes or hot lights you need a lot of lights, so that's why you need so many. So that's why I have this light right here going right here 'cause if this was just natural light, it'd all be evenly here like that and you do like that. So you just kinda gotta be aware of the lighting and your settings and stuff like that. The camera doesn't know anything, so if you have a vision and you want to create it, you could make nighttime look like daytime, you can make daytime look like nighttime and overpower the sun. So, white balance to me, which is what we'll talking about here, is, you know, I use Kelvin temperature and that's equal to your color and the color is your mood and feel of your image, which is super, super important. Keep right here, so when the white balance is set to auto, 'cause a lot of people set it to auto white balance, it tries to make it neutral, so which just tries to make it even and to me neutral is boring. It is neutral doesn't have a voice, like if you're neutral on a subject, you don't have a voice. It doesn't evoke or enhance an emotion, it doesn't do anything. The amount of color of lack of color in your images affects how the viewer sees it. So if you look at my work, I always get compliments or comments on the color of my images 'cause I'm very aware how I'm making mine, I think everything out. I'm not sure if you're going to go over this today anyway, but one of the things that you mentioned that I have tried to do is I like trying to make a nighttime look when it's not a nighttime scene in the studio. Now, I was wondering if you had any tips for settings to make it look more like nighttime? Yeah, what are you really trying to do? What's make it look nighttime? Color temperature, the light, I try to put kind of a blue tint on things to cool things off-- Yeah, what lights, are you using strobes or hot lights? Yeah, strobes, flash, I've experimented. Alright, cool, yeah I will kinda go over that a little bit, so I will be, let me see if this should be going off. Yep, so, what I would recommend doing that if you want to make it look nighttime, you use blue, I rarely use blue gels, even though we used some for today for the colored one, but I would change the Kelvin settings in the camera and shoot depending how moody you want it at 3,200 to 2,500 Kelvin. What kind of camera you're shooting with? I'm using a Nikon, it's a 50500. I don't know how low those go on the Kelvin settings, but if you want it really dark and moody, I would go as low as it goes, which would be 2,500 Kelvin. Yeah, it'll go down there. It'll go that low, yeah, and you just could kind of do that kind of selective lighting with grids and you could just really make it look at nighttime. If I go back to the context you're gonna have here, this is done during this picture and this picture is done during the same exact time, both indoors and you could kind of feel this is kinda more nighttime and this is more daytime. That's just done strictly with using the Gel, I will be doing this later today, but this is set like a 2,700 Kelvin with a CTO Gel on it and it turns regular daylight strobe into blue and that's the mood that you want, that kind of gives it more of a nighttime feel. We have Luna who is tuning in from South Africa. Oh, nice. And says, here she looks forward to hearing how you manage only manual settings. That's something that she really struggles with and is that of upmost importance when you're using multiple lights? Yes because usually to me it makes it real simple, the way when I'm lighting something, oh, we have a model here, nice, something for me always sets the exposure. So if I'm modifying the light a lot, the reason why I like using powerful lights is 'cause I like to modify my lights a lot and generally anything you put in front of the light, you lose power. For example this light right here. This has a grid on it, at 20 degree grid or 10 degree grid you lose usually a stop of power. When you put like a full CTO Gel on it you lose another stop of power. So if you have a 1,000 Watts second light, right, that all of a sudden becomes a 500 Watt second light, you put more stuff on it, it becomes a 250 Watts second light, right? So, I crank that up at full power and whatever F-stop I get from there, let's say the f8, I make all the other lights match that and that's why I use manual mode instead of TTL or all that stuff, so.

Class Description

Light is essential to creating cinematic images as well as color. In this class, join five time portrait photographer of the year Alexis Cuarezma as he breaks down his process for using color gels to make an image that grabs your attention. He will teach how he sets up his camera, creates a color scheme, and selects gels to get the desired image in camera. He'll go over simple color schemes that can be done with only two lights, as well as a full stylized image using multiple lights and color gels.



This is a great class on the use of gels although I don't like the abrupt editing between segments as it always leaves the impression something valuable has been missed. The photographer has a simple approach to gels that produces outstanding images (although he could use imprecise language like 'this' etc a little less). As a teacher, I have viewed many of the CC Live classes and almost all are well produced with great information. (It is admirable and worthy of support that many of these are presented for free.) This class is one of the best and is a great investment if you want to give your photography extra impact. By way of coincidence, I was watching the movie Marshall the other day (the story of the great Supreme Court jurist Thurgood Marshall) and was struck by the use of color in almost every scene. A great inspiration for using it in still photographs. Get this class, it is outstanding.


Alexis Cuarezma is hilarious, very talented, and a creatively energetic instructor and artist! If I hadn't been attending Photo Week, I wouldn't have chosen this course, but boy am I glad I was in it! Gels have been an enigma to me for years (in the way that studio strobes used to be), and I was surprised at how easy and useful they were when Cuarezma explained and demonstrated them. His creative process is a joy to watch and learn from. I highly recommend this course to ALL photographers!

Xavier Finch

This class is still super impactful 1 1/2 years later!! I really hope to see more of Alexis at CreativeLive. He has so much insight and is an excellent teacher. His explanations are clear and concise with ample context.