Candlelight Photography

Candlelight photography has never gone out of fashion, but it can be a little difficult to master. Digitally capturing the warm glow of the flickering flames on your subject’s face can be challenging. But don’t worry! If you follow the tips below, you will be well on your way to making the most of candlelight photography. Let’s go!

Keep It Simple

A good rule to follow with candlelight photography is “keep it simple.” By that, I mean shooting with minimal background and foreground distractions and keeping harsh shadows away from your subject. You could also try shooting with a white background. Those are the best ways to capture the natural essence of candlelight.

Go Slow

If you want to capture movement in a candlelight setting, go for a slower shutter speed. The slower you set it, the more movement you will be able to catch. The movement could be your subject, the candle flames or even your camera. However, if you’re going with the slowest shutter speed (say, one fifteenth of a second), ensure everything in the frame, animate and inanimate, is still. One little movement by your subject could put the entire picture in disarray.

To Be or Not to Be

It sometimes works better to not include candles in the frame at all, so as not to distract the viewer from the subject. Other times, decorative candles could heighten the drama in a portrait photo. Therefore, I suggest you try shooting with and without candles in the frame. However, just one point to remember: don’t place the candles in such a manner that the viewer is drawn more toward them than the subject. That means, place your subject in a dominant position, with the candles somewhere in the background.

No Flash, Please

Candlelight photography is all about capturing the mood and ambience in a scene. Therefore, it’s best to avoid using flash. Artificial light not only chases away whatever ambient light is available, but it also takes away from the mood. If need be, use a tripod and tell your subject to remain still until your shot is taken. Also, to avoid any camera shaking, use the self-timer option.

The Candle’s Role

Since much of candlelight photography is done without flash, one way of getting more light in the frame is to use more candles. That will also help you experiment with different shutter speeds, ISO levels and aperture settings. Another important tip to remember when using several candles is to spread them out evenly so that the light falling on the subject is uniform and not harsh. However, you can place more candles on one side of the subject to create a special effect of side lighting.

Go for White

The best way to illuminate your subject in candlelight is to make the most of white wherever you can find it. Whether it’s white walls, white ceilings, a white tablecloth or even your white T-shirt, any small amount of reflection will greatly accentuate the effect of the photo.

Extra Light

If the low light situation still doesn’t improve with the use of candles and reflectors, go for extra lights. That could be a table lamp or even a torch. However, don’t let the light fall directly on your subject. Disperse it by either pointing it to the ceiling or draping some red or orange paper around it.

Up Your ISO Level

Another way to get over the problem of low light conditions is to increase the ISO settings on your camera. However, keep it under 400 ISO to avoid graininess. Or, if you’re not going to be blowing up your photos, you could experiment with much higher ISO levels.

Exposure Compensation

When you have candles in the frame, your camera could underexpose the shot, because it will see the candle as a bright spot. Therefore, try overexposing past what your camera recommends. Just be sure not to over do it, as it might spoil the picture for you.

Shoot in RAW

Candles emit a fine balance of warm light that looks great in photos. However, if you have set the white balance in the Auto mode, the camera takes away the warm effect and renders your photo lifeless. Therefore, try different settings to get the right level of warmth. Some photographers find the Indoor and Tungsten settings work for them. But most importantly, shoot in RAW format (not JPEG or TIFF). That way, you’ll have the flexibility to process the picture in Photoshop and properly balance out the white in the image, without losing the original shot.

I hope these suggestions work for your candlelight photos!

~ Zahid H. Javali