Long Exposure Portraiture and Color Gels

Long Exposure Portraiture and Color Gels

Long exposure is one of the most fascinating photography techniques. It has always attracted me with its seemingly magical and sometimes unpredictable results. It isn’t hard to start experimenting with this photographic technique, but to make it even easier I have assembled some of my favorite long exposure setups to allow you to hit the ground running!


©Daryna Barynka

My most recent experiment with this method was a self-portrait session. You can tell I was fully committed to this concept, having glued copious amounts of glitter to my face and body!


©Daryna Barinka

The technique I used for this set of images is what I like to call the ‘color domino effect’. A combination of strobes and LED lights were used to create the look, with the subject positioned 3′ away form the LED source. The top of the background was lit by a gelled red strobe, while the bottom fall off was blue. I chose to tint the face of the subject blue while keeping the bottom of the jacket as red. In doing so I accomplished the desired effect of a perfect color contrast using the complimentary colors rule and colored gels to gain the desired hues.

Camera Settings: f/14, 6 seconds, ISO 100

To pull this look off I used the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM, Pixelstick LED Lightpainting Tool, two Elinchrome 500W/s Monolights, and an Elinchrome 17″ Minisoft Reflector Beauty Dish with a 50º grid, plus blue and red gels.


©Daryna Barinka

For the second setup I wanted to add a fluorescent Kino Flo Diva-Lite 400 light to change the lighting trace to make it brighter and more defined. The fluorescent source was positioned 6′ away and faced a white wall to the right of the camera. My goal was to get a soft fill light and more reflection from the glitter.

lighting scheme-2

Camera Settings: f/14, 1.3 seconds, ISO 100

After experimenting on myself, I was ready to bring a model into the studio. For this session, I decided to change my settings for a more ‘otherworldly’ result.


©Daryna Barinka

I decided to use a blue gel on my key light source to tint the model’s beautiful dark skin tone. The tint’s purpose was to create contrast between the glittery lips and the face and prevent the skin from overexposing, as it allowed just enough light in to expose the glitter.  The modeling light was on for the duration of the shoot and helped create the light trace.

lighting scheme-2

Camera Settings: f/9, 1/5 seconds, ISO 200

To create this look I used the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM, two Elinchrome 500W/s Monolights, and blue and red gels.

This lighting experiment had its fair amount of fine-tuning before I felt as though I was accomplishing the look I had envisioned before starting. This part of the process is, in fact, one of the most challenging, yet inspiring, as it tests what I already know about lighting while simultaneously teaching me something new.

© Daryna Barykina Slow Shutter PortraitUsing the long exposure technique along with gels isn’t limited to portrait photography but can also be applied to table-top products, car photography, and even action sports with a little ingenuity! I strongly encourage you to get out there with your unique vision, whatever it may be, and put your skills to the test! Who knows what seed you may sow into a full blown style of your very own.

More lighting tips and tricks:

Easy Lighting Laws to Boost Shooting Performance

Lighting for a Catalog Shoot

Cut the Cord: BL’s Best Wireless Lighting Options

Two Lighting Styles in 1 Shot with the Pocket Wizard MultiMax

Multiple Flash Firing with Nikon’s Advanced Wireless Lighting System Using Pop-up Flash

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Daryna Barykina is a beauty and fashion photographer based out of Florida. Her work has been featured on Sam Villa and Bangstyle in association with the program CUT IT OUT®: Salons Against Domestic Abuse. Last year, she received the title of Advertising Photographer of the Year from ND Magazine. Her photography is published in Estetica Italia, Modern Salon, American Salon, Salon News Asia, and many others.

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  1. these are amazing. how did you keep the face from blurring with the low SS?

    • Hello Keara, key and background source model lights were off, which prevented from further exposure of the entire subject. LED and fluorescent lights, in the given time, could only pick up the most reflective parts of the subject, without overexposing the entire face.

  2. These are absolutely stunning. I just got into photography and have been taking landscaping photography for the last two years. I’m starting to take portraits buy I’m having a hard time getting exposure right (outdoors especially). What ive noticed by watching other photographers is that before shooting the subject, the point their cameras somewhere else and the go back to subject and take the picture. I tried that but my subject is no longer I focus. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


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