Add Color To Your Portraits Using Rosco Gels & Duratrans Film

Are you bored of shooting portraits on white, black, or gray? Are you looking to add some color and creativity to your subjects and environments? Are you looking to shoot more composite photography using backplates you've made on location and subjects you've shot in studio? If you've answered yes to any of these questions and aren't already a genuine wiz at using gels, then this post is for you.

Intro to Durantrans

Rosco gels and reflectors are a great way to add another element to your portraits with a hint or hit of color. I am a fan of doing for a variety of reasons but mostly because it's one less step of having to "do it in post." As much as you can create in camera, especially when doing composites, the better off you will be in post. Now in this example above I used a 4x6 printed duratrans print as my background. Its a photo of a glass shelf of cocktail glasses in a dimly lit bar. If you are unfamiliar with what a duratrans is, think of an advertisement at a bus stop that is lit from behind. Most of the time these ads are printed on this type of film that lets light pass through it creating a more dynamic background. Most professional level print shops can print any of your images on this material.

So, knowing that we can create these backgrounds and that the light and tone passes through them, it can actually be a cost effective way for you to help sell the shot or create interesting backgrounds for your portraits. In beverage photography, these are commonly used because they push the tones of the background through the glass itself and help sell the shot. I say "sell the shot" because many backgrounds used in beer or liquor ads are shot on location and the beverages are shot in a studio. If you can send one person on location to shoot a background, or buy a stock image for the background, it becomes quite a bit more cost effective than taking equipment, crew, and clients on location. Also this is especially important for liquor/beer ads because it's super difficult to add the tones of the background into bottles or glasses in post. Glass warps and distorts tone and shape in a unique way and this can be super frustrating to do in post. Currently Photoshop doesn't offer the "Glass Background Tone Brush" and I want to make it public that I think they should. Duratrans prints typically aren't used for composite photography with humans because we are not made of glass and gels can be a perfectly good substitute for "selling the shot." This is why it is important for you to travel with a good Rosco gel kit for when a photo calls for it.

Gels With Composite Photography

If you are looking to create some backplates on location and later photoshop in subjects, keep gels in mind to add tone to your subject in studio that exist in your backplate. A great example of someone who's mastered this technique is Joel Grimes. His subjects seamlessly fit in environments because he pays attention to things like tone, direction of light, and perspective. For example if you want to shoot a backplate of a sunset and photoshop in a subject that is shot in the studio, use warm gels on lights coming in the direction of where the sun is in relation of the subject. Or if you shoot a grimy city night scape pay attention to the tone and color of the lights, stop lights, neon signs, window light, and any available light source and try to mimic that light placement and color with gels on your lights.

Gels With Studio Portraits

Even if you aren't doing composite photography and are looking to add another element to your book I think that the occasional shoot with gels is a great idea. Whether its flare with a hint of color or gels on every single light it is worth the time experimenting with. In the example above I knew I was shooting a subject with darker skin so I knew that deep blue and green tones will reflect better and add great rim/accent light to the photograph. One thing to keep in mind is that the use of gels can be much harder to pull off successfully with subjects with lighter skin. I learned this the hard way awhile back. It simply just doesn't look as good on super light skin tones. In either scenario, gels can be used to light elements of the background, clothing, or skin tone to give the photo a mood and add another element to your portfolio.

 What I Used In This Shoot

Gold Foil #3805 - This is great stretched over an old canvas frame and used as a reflector for a catch light in the eye.

Moonlight Gridcloth #3090 - Super subtle gridcloth that can be used in film or photography. Ads a subtle cool tone to your subject. It's called moonlight for a reason.

Primary Blue Lux #80 - Great for darker, colder tones. Good for adding light to a night shot. This is a primary blue and casts a very strong blue light on your subject.

Silver Foil #3803 - This is great stretched over an old canvas frame and used as a reflector for a catch light in the eye.

#4260 Blue - Almost appears Blueish Purple in some settings. Not nearly as strong as Primary Blue #80 and is great for small hints of blue/cool tones.

Here is a RAW capture right out of the camera, check out the video above for the description on the lighting. Notice the difference between blue gels on the left and right side of the face with the #80 on the right, #4260 on the left, and Silver foil #3803 reflecting into his eyes:

Fstoppers_Using Gels In Your Photo_Gary Martin--2

In the photo below notice the difference shooting into the light versus the duratrans above and the creation of blue lens flare.

Fstoppers_Using Gels In Your Photo_Gary Martin--3

You can check out Indiana Rome at and his latest collaboration project This is The Dope, which I thought was one of the best EP's of the year.

Shot On Location at RGG Photo, St. Louis.
Camera: Hasselblad H4D
Lens: 120mm Macro

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Tim Gallo's picture

so many lights and the lighting is just not good, it could be better. looks underexposed, the spill and shadows are bad (because the lighting is placed wrong), the catchlight is in his eyes may be better, WB is bad (just look at his whites in the eyes), again its because its not done properly. you can do the same with whites in his eyes being white, the catch light more appealing, because its blue on both sides - the picture looses balance, background does not lit properly and there are spills of the same colors.
gels are great, but this is just a bad example of using them.

Lets see yours?

thats the beauty with photography. There are no rights and no wrongs. Was the client happy with these photos? if so, Job done!

How is the light placed wrong?

It's not under exposed, he also light to create shadow....

You could also achieve this effect without gels by printing the image out and colouring in the background with crayons......


Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

Give me more light!

I love Rosco gels but you don't just add them for the hell of it randomly! It's just another tool to use. I use it to match ambient light or to change the white balance of the background (from white to blue usually) while keeping the subject lit correctly. To each their own i suppose.

absolutely not my style..

Josiah Mendoza's picture

I'm actually surprised at the amount of lights and reflectors, but I barely see anything. Gels would've been fine, if they didn't spill so much in the face.

Good video,thx for posting ....

The shot feels like it is missing something. Some readers have already correctly pointed out the white balance could be better, as could just increasing the actual amount of light in the scene. The shot also feels like it is simply too tight, maybe it should/could have been shot in a bar or composited into one. Where else would we see such moody coloured lights with a shelf? behind our subject.