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15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography http://digital-photography-school.com/blog/14-tips-for-great-candlelig...

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15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography


Have you ever tried to
photograph a candle lit scene
with your digital camera?

The results can be stunning


with the warm glow of
flickering flames reflecting
off your subjects face (can
you feel the romance?) but the
shooting in such a low light
environment make it can
make it a challenging
situation.

Here are a few tips on how to


get that perfect candle light
portrait!

Image by Sea Eye 1. Turn off Your Flash


Lets start with the obvious ones and work our way back. We’ve all taken shots using a flash in low light
situations and have been disappointed by the way it totally destroys any ambient light in a shot. If you want
to get the warm glow of candles it’s essential that you switch your flash completely off. There is of course
an exception - see point 15 below.

2. Use a Tripod

Stating the obvious again - but shooting by candlelight means you’re shooting with very little light which
in turn means you’ll almost certainly be shooting with slower shutter speeds that increase the impact of
camera shake on your shots. Make sure your camera is as secure and as still as possible during shots by
using a tripod and by considering the use of a remote shutter release to take out any vibrations from hitting
the shutter.

3. Extra Candles

The biggest challenge with candlelight photography is the lack of light you have to work with. Using more
candles will obviously produce more light which gives you a little more flexibility when it comes to shutter
speed, ISO and aperture settings.

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15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography http://digital-photography-school.com/blog/14-tips-for-great-candlelig...

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4. Spread Your Candles

Using a single candle or positioning multiple candles all closely together in one position will cause there to
be harsher shadows cast upon your subject’s face. This might be the look you’re going for, however in
most cases you’ll want a more even spread of light on their face. This can be achieved simply by spreading
the candles out a little. I would still recommend more candles on one side than the other as this will create a
nice side lighting impact - however don’t get the sides too uneven unless you’re after a pretty dramatic
impact.

5. Natural ‘Reflectors’

The few times that I I shot by


candlelight I made an accidental
discovery that has been helpful
since. I noticed that those times I
shot my subject sitting at a table
with a white table cloth that the
shots were better exposed than
those without a white table cloth.
Obviously the table cloth reflected
light back up into the face of my
subject. Similarly white walls and
Image by carf ceilings can have this type of
effect also (it’s slight - but
everything helps when you’re shooting in such low light situations).

6. Fast Lenses

If you’re shooting with a DSLR and have multiple lenses choose the ‘fastest’ one you’ve got as this will
allow you to use a larger aperture and let more light into your camera. My personal preference for this type
of shot would be one of my 50mm lenses (f/1.8 or f/1.4). I would then generally shoot with the fastest
aperture setting possible (or close to it) which enables a faster shutter speed and lower ISO. Keep in mind
however that the larger your aperture the smaller your depth of field will be and the more spot on you
focussing will need to be.

7. Zooms and Aperture

Keep in mind that when you’re shooting with many zoom lenses that the maximum aperture changes
throughout the focal length range. ie shooting at the widest setting on many zooms will give you a larger
aperture than when you zoom in. As a result it might be better to move in closer to your subject with a
wider angle focal range than using the zoom.

8. Context and Backgrounds

Compositionally I like to keep these types of shots as uncluttered and simple as possible. I will generally
shoot in front of a white background (keep an eye on harsh shadows cast by your subject and consider one
or two behind them) and with minimal props. It might be appropriate to include a glass of wine and some
basic table settings if you’re going for a shot at a table - but the less distractions that you have in the shot
the better.

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15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography http://digital-photography-school.com/blog/14-tips-for-great-candlelig...

9. Shutter Speed

An obvious way to let


more light into your
camera is to choose a
slower shutter speed.
Keep in mind that as you
decrease shutter speed
you increase the chances
of capturing any
movement (both of your
subject, the flames of
candles and movement of
Image by fast eddie 42
your camera). If the
environment is completely still (so flames are not flickering) and with a subject keeping as still as possible
you might set your shutter speed as slow as 1/15th of a second - but any slower and you might be asking
too much of your subject.

10. ISO Settings

Another way to compensate for low light environments is to increase the ISO settings on your camera. Of
course the trade off of doing this is shots with more grain (noise) in them. Attempt to keep your ISO under
400 if you can and you should get reasonably clean shots. Any higher and you’ll start noticing the noise -
especially if you’re blowing shots up to larger sizes.

11. Expose

If candles are in the shot, your camera will usually underexpose the shot as it’ll see them as such a bright
spot. You might want to try overexposing by a stop from what the camera recommends. Don’t beef up
exposure too much however or you’ll end up with your candles being burnt out spots in your image.

12. White Balance

It is well worth experimenting with white balance when shooting by candle light. Candles emit a very
‘warm’ light - something that you’ll want to include in your shots as it creates a wonderful atmosphere.
However your camera may want to get rid of this warmth if you have white balance set to ‘auto’. Try
different settings to get the right level of warmth (I find ‘indoor’ or ‘tungsten’ settings can work).
Alternatively shoot in RAW and you’ll have a lot more flexibility with white balance in your post
processing.

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15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography http://digital-photography-school.com/blog/14-tips-for-great-candlelig...

13. Composition of
Candles

There are two main


ways to deal with
candles in a
compositional senses -
you can include them
in the shot or leave
them out unseen out of
the frame. Both
alternatives can create
lovely shots so
experiment with both.
Image by Sara Heinrichs
If you’re including
candles in the frame remember that they’ll impact the settings your camera wants to us (see section on
‘exposure’ above) but that they’ll also create points of interest in your shot that can potentially draw the eye
of those viewing your image - competing with your main subject. As a result you’ll want to position your
subject in a prominent position and consider placing candles in a way that doesn’t distract too much.

If candles are in the frame you’ll also want to make sure they’re nice ones. Smaller details matter in
portraits and ugly candles might prove to be a real distraction.

14. Other Light Sources

Sometimes candles just won’t product enough light on their own. If this is the case and the above
techniques still don’t leave you with enough light consider adding a little extra from another source. You
might have a lamp or a dimmed light that you can use for example. For best results try to give your extra
light a warm glow by using some red or orange material to drape over it (be careful of heat).

15. Using a Flash with a Colored Gel

In point number 1 I talked about turning off your flash to help you get that warm glow from the candles
rather than a bright flash blowing out the image. The only exception that I have seen people use for this
using some sort of a warm (red or orange) gel over your flash. This dims the impact of the flash and gives it
a warm light. You might also want to decrease the output of the flash manually if you have control over
this. Experiment with different color gels to get the color just right.

OK - so now it’s over to you to experiment with Candlelight Photography! Post your results over in our
forum’s Share Your Shots section.

Read more posts like '15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography'

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Portrait Photography Tips

4 of 8 5/26/2008 9:35 PM
15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography http://digital-photography-school.com/blog/14-tips-for-great-candlelig...

7 Responses to “15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography”

sanders Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 1:34 am

Nice article. Good tips!

Greg Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 1:35 am

Very good article :) Thanks!

sazzycrazy Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 3:11 am

I have tried some such type of shots earlier, and these tips will surely improve the picture i take, i am
planing ot take one very soon and see the results. thank you for giving such tips to people like me
who are new to this world of photography

Navneeth Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 3:43 am

Great! I was trying to do something “creative” with my camera during a recent power-cut, without
success. This article should be able to help. :-)

Vijesh Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 5:00 am

Nice tips! Ah now I can stop cursing darkness and do something cool with candles!

rasso Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for sharing…

Phil Says:
May 26th, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Tipp: I heard it would be much easyer to fotograph a candle when you fotograph its picture in a
mirror. You often see much more details - not only one white point.

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