Digital SLR Photography

How to apply the 'orange-teal look'

By Caroline Schmidt. Posted

What’s the ‘Orange-Teal look’?’ I hear you ask. Well, most recently, it’s associated with Instagram as it seems almost every other image has this effect applied through its arsenal of filters, but it actually stems back to cinematographers and how they colour grade their work to improve its depth. As orange and teal are two of the most contrasting complementary colours on the colour wheel, when put together they create contrast and therefore depth – it’s particularly useful when light or depth-of-field can’t be used to separate the background from the subject. As almost all shades of skin tones contain orange already, by tinting the background teal it can highlight the subject beautifully.

While some editing presets come close to this look with a single click, we’d still suggest manually applying the settings to customise the effect. It's very quick and simple to do too: you push the blues into the shadows to turn them teal, and the oranges and yellows into the highlights. You can then tweak the Saturation and Hue to adjust the colour's tonality further, if needed. You can do it all in Lightroom or Photoshop’s Adobe Camera Raw, which we’ll show you how here.

1. Edit your Raw file

If you’re working with a Raw file, open it in ACR and apply basic edits such as Exposure, Contrast, Blacks and Vibrance to give you a good base to begin toning your image. You’re actually not going to do much more than this in ACR at this stage, so click Open to access Photoshop.


2. Duplicate your image

In Photoshop, drag your Background layer down to the Create New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layer’s palette or go to (Layer>Duplicate Layer). Rename this layer ‘Tone’, select it and go to Filter>Camera Raw Filter to reopen your Raw file.

3. Adjust the primary colours

In ACR, click on the Camera Calibration tab and move the Blue Primary Hue slider all the way to the left. Move the Green Primary Hue slider to the right until you get a look you like. Some prefer moving the Reds to the right, instead of the Greens, but it’s a matter of taste.

4. Adjust the skin tones

You may find the orange effect is too strong for skin tones, so access the HSL Adjustments panel and the Hue tab to move the Orange, Yellow and Reds for a subtler look. Don’t sacrifice the rest of the image for the skin though, you can tweak the skin further later, if needed.

5 Adjust the Aqua and Greens

Still in the HSL Adjustments panel, move the Hue sliders for Aqua and Green to the right until it suits your shot’s background. If you’ve blue sky you may not need much green as opposed to if your person is backed by foliage – as is the case here – it’s different for every image.

6 Use Layer Masks

Click Open Image to access Photoshop again and add a Layer Mask to the ‘Tone’ layer. Use the Brush Tool with Black paint and a low opacity to reduce the effect on the skin as needed. You may also want to finish by crushing the blacks to make it look more like an Instagram filter.