Using artificial lighting for photography seems easy enough at first glance. However, it takes LOTS of practice to begin understanding how to use lighting to your advantage.

Add color into an already difficult process and you’ll be pulling your hair out, unless you love split lighting of two very saturated colors. Hint: that’s not good. That’s terrible lighting and it always looks like an accident. You can experiment and be creative, but be purposeful with your lighting decisions.

I took on a photography project in this area – color gel portrait photography. I asked both men and women to pose as models for 4 separate photoshoots. Each time was an awesome learning experience. Let’s dive into the women’s portraits.


This first image was one of the first I took of this series. This is my sister Kallie. I used a very saturated red for a rim light and a light blue as a fill. Because of the brightness of her hair and sweater, the colors reflected very well. The light blue made a nice vignette on the background behind her. I used two speed lights.


This is my cousin, Maddie. I asked her to wear a dark turtleneck with her hair up in a straight, high pony-tail. I put two very vibrant colors on the speed lights – green and magenta. I put a third source in – a Godox positioned for Rembrandt lighting. This overpowered the magenta in the small triangle beneath her far eye. I discovered that the catchlight in her eyes is what made this image so captivating. Since then, I’ve tried to incorporate catch lights in each of my model shots.


This is Fennia. She is from South Korea. I experimented with many different colors and found this pose and colors to be my favorite. I used two speed light flashes for the rim light and a Godox for Rembrandt lighting. I used complementary colors and had them very saturated. She was wearing a shiny leather jacket which worked well with reflecting the light.


This is Wandile from South Africa. She is awesome at modeling, which I discovered in a photography class we took together. I wanted to experiment with purple a bit more so I used that and teal as her two colors with a Godox strobe light in front of her. We realized her nails were the same color so I had her pose with her nails.


This is Lacy, another awesome photographer. I asked her to wear some type of fur. We used magenta and turquoise for her with not third lighting setup. This worked, but having only two lights made for some dark shadows. I adjusted what I could in post. I love the pink fur rim lighting.


Finally, one of my best friends – Libby. With her, I also experimented with several complementary color pairs and found these two colors and this pose to work the best with who she is and her personality. I love how the orange is found in the highlights and the blues in the shadows. I adjusted this in Photoshop by removing some flares, random hairs, and boosting the exposure on her face not lit by the two colors.