Using just our cameras, lights, and modifiers, we can significantly change the look of the scenes we’re photographing, in-camera. There’s no need to add magic in post. For example, a simple way to dramatically alter the look of a scene involves the use of off-camera flash and some colorful gels. In the video below, we’ll demonstrate how to use this creative color effects technique to change the color and mood in your photos. You’ll also learn which gels to use to get the exact color you want within your scene, regardless of the colors present outside of your camera.

Let’s jump in.

Video Tutorial

Gear Checklist

To execute this technique, we used the following gear:

  • Off-camera flash (Profoto B10+ – use anything with 250 watt seconds or more of power)
  • MagBox Pro 24
  • MagBox Pro Speedring for Profoto
  • MagGrip 2
  • MagGels (Correction Gels – We used 1/2 CTO, 1/2 CTB – Blue, and 1/2 Plusgreen)
  • MagGrid (optional)

Use Color Gels for Creative Color Effects

As you’ll see in the examples below, you can use color gels to transform the color and mood of your photos. We’ll start with the most common, the CTO gel, and then walk through some other examples using different color gels.

Be sure to use the C.A.M.P. Framework when using this technique for creative color effects.

Step 1. The Standard Shot – Natural Light

You’ll want to dial in a darker ambient exposure (than what the eye sees) to create a nice dramatic shot with flash.

MagMod Color Gel Natural Light Standard Shot
Settings: 28mm, 1/200, f/14, ISO 400

Next, underexposed without flash:

MagMod Color Gel No Flash
Settings: 28mm, 1/200, f/14, ISO 50

And finally, underexposed with flash.

MagMod Color Gel Flash no Gel
Settings: 28mm, 1/200, f/14, ISO 50 | Flash Power = 1/2 (250 watt seconds)

Be sure to capture a plate shot (without the lighting assistant in the frame) so that you can quickly edit the lighting assistant out for the final image.

Step 2. CTO Gel

BTS of orange gel to demo creative color effects process
Settings: 28mm, 1/200, f/14, ISO 50 | Flash Power = 1/1 (500 watt seconds)

Depending on your white balance settings, the CTO might make your subject look too warm. What works for natural light images won’t work once you’ve added the gels. To fix the issue, simply adjust your white balance in-camera.

Step 3. White Balance

MagMod Color Gel Orange CTO adjusted white balance
Settings: 28mm, 1/200, f/14, ISO 50 | Flash Power = 1/1 (500 watt seconds)

In order to fix the overly warm looking subjects, we shifted our white balance from 6,000K to 4,300K and adjusted the tint (+11 magenta). This helped balance out the hue of our subject’s skin tone.

Tip for Correcting Creative Color Effects

The following tips will help you know which color gel you’ll need to get the background color you want while keeping the skin tones on your subjects looking normal. You can use the color wheel to help.

Orange Subject – Add Blue

If the light on your subject is orange, add blue to compensate. Everything in the scene will turn more BLUE when you compensate for the orange gel.

Green Subject – Add Magenta

If the light on your subject is green, add magenta. This will neutralize your subject’s skin tones while adding pink and purple hues to the scene.

Blue Subject – Add Orange

What if the light on your subject is blue? Simply add warmth or orange which will make everything in the scene go more orange.

Step 4. Finalize in Post

Finalize your photos in post.

Final Images for Creative Color Effects Using Color Gels

no gel for creative color effects
No Gel, Temp = 6,000K, Magenta Tint +14
orange gel with magenta tint for creative color effects
1/2 CTO Gel, Temp = 4,300K, Magenta Tint +11
blue gel with magenta tent and white balance adjustment for creative color effects
1/2 CTB Gel, Temp = 8,500K, Magenta Tint +19
green gel used for creative color effects
1/2 Plus Green Gel, Temp = 6,000K, Magenta Tint +33