How to Make an Impact with Color: Q&A with Lindsay Adler

How to Make an Impact with Color: Q&A with Lindsay Adler

Here at PhotoShelter, we are proud to share the passion and talent of our incredible members. This week, we sat down with renowned fashion photographer, educator, Canon Explorer of Light and PhotoShelter member Lindsay Adler to dive into a topic she’s truly passionate about… color harmony and utilizing bold and beautiful colors to elevate your work.

In our new on-demand webinar, Harnessing the Power of Color, Lindsay joins us to discuss integrating purposeful and powerful color into your photographic style.

Watch to learn: 

  • Color theory basics
  • The emotional implications of color
  • Planning ahead for integrating color
  • A bit of color grading to finish off the creative process!

On-Demand Webinar: Harnessing the Power of Color with Lindsay Adler

All Your Questions Answered

Thank you to everyone for submitting questions throughout our conversation with Lindsay and during the Q&A! Read through Lindsay’s answers below, and tweet any lingering questions @photoshelter.

This Q&A was lightly edited for clarity and length.

What trends in lighting with gels are you seeing requested in the Fashion and Beauty Industry in 2020? 

LA: There are two major trends that I’m seeing for lighting and I’ll pull in what this means for color, too. There’s a trend toward fantasy and there’s a trend toward authenticity, which are two opposite ends of the spectrum. 

People will either go for natural light, natural makeup – get to know this individual as they truly are, their authentic selves. And then on the other side, there’s fantasy. Let’s do something avant-garde with hair and makeup, or something usual with the lighting. And that’s where you see gels come into play. 

Do you use a color light meter?

LA: That is a good question and the answer is no. There is a reason to use them, but it tends to be used much more in technical photography. Perhaps it would be more useful for architectural photography or scientific photography. But usually for the way that I work, it is a little bit of science mixed with a little bit of magic – Meaning what looks good. So it is not a piece of gear that I would say is necessary. I had to learn it in college, but haven’t used it since.

What are your favorite gels? What are some of the best gels you’ve worked with?

LA: So there are technically different thicknesses of gels and there are a couple of main brands. There’s LEE, there’s Rosco, but in the end I see no difference and pretty much all the gels I use are Rosco gels. I’ve found that, at least for me, there were more of a variety of them and I liked the saturation. 

As I’m sitting here, literally next to me, I’m holding a two and a half inch thick pile of little sample Rosco gels. If you search online, you can get this sample kit for under five bucks of hundreds of colors, and I really liked that because I can actually hold them in my hand and see what colors I like and then order them individually as the 12 by 12 inch.

What would you recommend for a portable lighting setup? What flash, umbrella, reflector, etc?

LA: There are a couple of things you have to think about. Is this something that you’re doing yourself? Is this something you need to be able to set up and have no assistant? The next part is, do you know studio lighting? Directional flash, portable lighting, or are you trying to work with natural light? And then the last part is, what’s your budget?

If I had to look at this question and assume you mean flash – and let’s just assume I can say you have unlimited budget – I would go with a Profoto B10 Plus. I’m obsessed with it right now. It’s fantastic. It’s this small little flash. It’s super tiny, but it has 500 Ws. It’s a tiny little battery. I get fast recycle times. And it’s also light, so it’s easy for you to take out on your own.

Other than that, it’s about analyzing the environment. There’s often beautiful natural light that you can work with to create a flattering photograph. But when you have a strobe, then you can transform a scene. So depends on what you’re trying to do.

How do you decide which adjustments to make in camera and which to do in post-processing?

LA: That’s a really good question. I will say part of it comes with practice, for sure, because it’s experimenting. But for the image on the left here, I know that if I want that blue light in the foreground to be really saturated and shiny, I’m probably going to want to do that through using a gel rather than trying to change the color and post-processing to be that saturated. But I also know that, with the exact photograph we’re looking at here… if I took it into Photoshop or let’s say just Lightroom or Capture One, and I started to mess around with the white balance and tint, I can get some pretty wild colors. I can make that blue look a lot more like a teal. I can make that yellow look a lot more like a red, so there isn’t a right or wrong answer. 

What I usually do is if some part of the frame needs to be isolated with a color – so I want the shadows to be blue or the background to be green – I tend to light that or have the set be that color. But if I want to add subtle nuances like a slight tint of magenta in the shadows or warmth in the highlights, that’s when I would do that in post-processing.

How can someone who shoots primarily nature, landscape and outdoor subjects make the best use of color theory?

LA: So there’s a few different ways that you can do this. First of all, one of the approaches is simply to train your eye to see when there are interesting color theories happening in front of you. This is one of the things I find so amazing. That is not how my eye works. I don’t obviously shoot very much landscape, but when I do travel photography, my eye is now trained to go, “Oh look at that beautiful analogous color scheme.” Or I’ll be looking around and see a guy in an orange shirt and think, “Let me see if there’s an environment around where there’s a cooler, more blue background.” It’s more about trying to analyze when there’s an opportunity to take advantage of a color scheme that already exists in nature, and already exists in reality.

The other thing that you can do as well, as long as you feel free to be creative in your work, is to do a little bit more in post-processing. For example, there might be a sunset that was okay with color, but there is something colorful in the foreground. Can you change the color of the sunset to be a compliment? Can you saturate it? Can you shift the hue? Take creative freedom to introduce a color theory. In nature, most often you are going to see analogous all the time. Whether you like it or not, you’ll see analogous everywhere.

Do you use gels on small light heads or larger heads? Any difference in the quality of light by those head sizes?

LA: Really the head size doesn’t matter. Technically the smaller the head, the harder the light will be, but then you can modify any of these heads by adding a softbox, a beauty dish or an umbrella. So it doesn’t really matter. I tend to use whatever’s available to me, but most of the time on location it’s the Profoto B10 Plus. In the studio I use Profoto B2s. So anything you’ve got will do the trick for gels.

When you’re shooting outdoors, do you use color filters or just adjust the white balance?

LA: I usually adjust the balance if it’s meant to be creative and then I’ll play with gels. It really depends on location. If I’m trying to go super creative, sometimes I’ll go with a wacky white balance because it completely changes the entire environment. And then you can select a gel which actually balances for your crazy white balance.

For example, I could set my white balance to tungsten and then on my main light, I can add a CTO (a color temperature orange gel). What that does is it makes the subject orange because I’m lighting them with an orange gel. When I switch to tungsten, it gets rid of that orange. But the entire environment that wasn’t lit by the gel will now become blue. There’s a lot of different things you can do.

What are some ways you can leverage these techniques in getting industry jobs?

LA: One of the things I consider to be one of my super powers is that I can light anything. And so I’ve had people approach me, whether it’s art directors or editors of magazines, and say, “We love your lighting,” or “When we looked at your website, the color just grabbed our attention.” So it’s about establishing yourself as an expert and having versatility. Then you can also use it to show that you’re aware of trends. That’s important. That’s something that I do.

But one of the things that I personally do is I shoot at least twice a month, usually more, dedicated to creative play days. So the only thing I’m trying to do during those days is create beautiful images that show my skill-set. And half the time, it’s intended to just be something beautiful that stops you in your tracks. Maybe a client will be wowed by it. And then the other half of the time, I’m trying to create imagery that may actually be applicable to that client. They might actually say, “Oh yes, that’s exactly what we need for our brand.”

Want to get the answers to all of the questions from the Q&A, including an insider’s look at Lindsay’s shooting, planning and editing process? Watch the on-demand webinar above!

If you want to learn more lighting tips from Lindsay, you can also download her free Creative Studio Lighting Guide

Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by
There are 4 comments for this article
  1. Danelle at 10:22 pm

    Hi Jeremy,

    The link on this page — If you want to learn more lighting tips from Lindsay, you can also download her free Creative Studio Lighting Guide.

    — does not work. It did not send me to a download page, nor did the free guide show up in my browser. I used this link on both the newest version of MS Edge as well as the current version of Google Chrome.

    Can you send a link to download this free “Creative Studio Lighting Guide” to me?

    Thanks, Danelle

  2. William DuBose at 5:42 pm

    Question for Lindsay:
    The original color wheel for color in light had a memorable little phrase you could remember primary and complementary colors by “Red Cadillac BY General Motors”. To translate – red and cyan are complementary to each other, Blue and Yellow, and then Green and Magenta.
    Primaries were red, green and blue, and complementary colors were cyan, yellow and magenta. The color wheel you are describing and using currently is the color wheel that used to be used for paint colors, as opposed to the light colors.
    My question – was there an agreed upon universal shift in color theory to the paint color wheel, and the light color wheel abandoned? The colors still behave the same in light. Was the light color wheel deemed not useful any longer?

    • Lindsay Adler at 7:21 pm

      Thanks so much for the question. So, both color wheels are still utilized. I actually use both– If you look at the image at the very top of this post, it is red-cyan compliment. When playing with gels I often use the light color wheel because I am working with gelled light. When I am working with tangible things (clothing, makeup, etc), I tend to use the other color wheel more often. Both are valid and help explain color harmonies!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *