Small molecule fluorophores are essential tools for chemical biology. A benefit of synthetic dyes is the ability to employ chemical approaches to control the properties and direct the position of the fluorophore. Applying modern synthetic organic chemistry strategies enables efficient tailoring of the chemical structure to obtain probes for specific biological experiments. Chemistry can also be used to activate fluorophores; new fluorogenic enzyme substrates and photoactivatable compounds with improved properties have been prepared that facilitate advanced imaging experiments with low background fluorescence. Finally, chemical reactions in live cells can be used to direct the spatial distribution of the fluorophore, allowing labeling of defined cellular regions with synthetic dyes.