Awesome Cold Look With CTO Gel And Tweaking White Balance

A few weeks back I wrote an article about stopping down the ambient light by 2-3 stops and using flash to expose for your subject, kind of a Magic Bullet look. Today I wanted to make an addition to that article – how you can add a CTO gel to your flash and change your white balance to get a different feel and add “Whapak” to your shot.

The CTO gel trick

What You’ll Need:

A DSLR, equipped with an off camera flash trigger. (I use my trusty poverty wizards – shown below – for these shots)

The CTO gel trick

A Flash with a Full CTO Gel – I use rosco sun 85 gel (lightstand is optional).

The CTO gel trick

How to Pull It Off:

I used the same technique of underexposing the background 2-3 stops and using my flash to correct the exposure on the subject.

This is how it looks like with the setting set “normally” i.e. white balance is set to flash.

The CTO gel trick
ISO 200, 1/160 @ f18. Speedlight is @ full power. WB=FLASH.

When I put a CTO Gel on my flash it looks like this. The CTO gel cuts your flash down by about -1 stop so you have to compensate either by increasing the ISO or opening up the aperture. The subject here becomes orange because the white balance used on her is “incorrect”.

The CTO gel trickCamera and flash settings: ISO 200, 1/160 @ f13. Speedlight is at full power. WB=FLASH.

Switching the camera White Balance to Tungsten(Incandescent), to make everything bluer. Because my flash has a CTO Gel on it, it compensates for the subject orange color and makes it correct again. Basically we have aligned the strobe and camera with an orange look which pulls the rest of the image to the blue tones.

The CTO gel trick
Camera and flash settings: ISO 200, 1/160 @ f13. Speedlight is at full power. WB=TUNGSTEN

The Setup Shot:

For this shoot I only had a bare sb-600 with CTO gel on a lightstand.

The CTO gel trick
Without CTO Gel.WB=Flash.

The CTO gel trick
With CTO Gel and WB=Tungsten.

Final Shots and Comparisons

The CTO gel trickThe CTO gel trick

Model is a Philippine based photographer, Jay Jay De Guzman.

The CTO gel trick

Model is a Philippine based photographer, Milk Mendoza.

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

The CTO gel trick

I actually like both options: both with compensating for the CTO gel in camera and simply leaving it as it is, getting a bit of an orangy look. But I like how changing the white balance makes everything on a colder tone, and makes your subject really pop out from your background.

The CTO gel trick

Thanks to The Team. Me(Laya Gerlock aka LSG), Milk Mendoza and Jay Jay De Guzman.

  • Thomas Dumonet

    Nice effect. I had a similar effect doing light painting with steel wool under city lights. When correcting white balance the steel wool became blue and it was pretty nice actually

    • LSG

      Indeed! :)

  • patrick shipstad

    Good tips.. thank you!!

    • LSG

      Sharing is Caring :)

  • Morgan Glassco

    Very cool, think I will try this for one day for my Selfie 365 project

    • LSG

      post it here how it looks :) would love to see the result

  • Oscar Lara

    Nice tip, i’m going to try this out this weekend.

    I got a huge booklet of Gels from a local Audio Visual company. So if anyone doesn’t want to buy some I would start there.

    • Ian G

      OK… how? :)

      • Oscar Lara

        I would search Audio Visual or lighting event companies in your city and give them a call. I actually got two packs from them. They’re happy to give them away. Just say you are working on a project and need some gels.

        • Ian G

          Thanks!

      • John C

        per the Rosco website:
        Rosco re-sellers, the retailers and production facilities who sell color and correction filters, will be happy to give you a swatchbook free. They cannot, however, mail them, so you need to go to the store or facility in person.

    • LSG

      Thanks for the comment! :)

  • Nash

    would this work going the other way? flashing with blue gels and then bringing it back to make the sky and everything oranger? not really practical, but might be fun to mess with

    • John C

      I have played with the other direction a little. You can add more orange to a sunset and gives everything that caste. I plan to play with it more later.

    • The_Michael

      Yes you can. Set you WB to 10000 K, full CTB on the flash, -2 on the ambient, and a Daylight to Tungsten filter on the lens. Makes the background a nice sepia color. And they said that color filters were not useful on digital.

    • LSG

      hhmm.. will try it just to see.