Sunlight and studio lights are two of the most used light sources in photography. Yet, there are other sources that give off light as well, and not only can they illuminate your subject but they can also create atmosphere and mood. Candlelight is a versatile light source that you can creatively use to show off your subject.
Use a tripod – since this is a low light situation, you will be using a slow shutter speed which will increase the chances of the appearance of camera shake. To avoid this, use a tripod or set your camera on a steady surface. Another advantage of using a tripod is you can tweak your setup if needed without you having to reposition your camera and adjusting focus all over again.
Use only one candle – having only one candle for your light source means it has to be sufficient to illuminate what you want to be seen. You might have to do several test shots to adjust your exposure settings, as well as position the candle in a strategic manner. Having the candle close to the subject will give stronger illumination. Try placing the candle near a white wall or sheet so that this wall will act as a reflector and add more light to the scene. One candle gives the impression of intimacy or secrecy.
Use many candles – a lot of candles can provide drama and give the impression of passion. You can create more even lighting by spread out the placement of the candles. If you intend to show dramatic shadows, place more of the candles at just a certain area.
Use background for context – images that include candlelight are usually simple and uncluttered. If you want to place the subject in relation to its surroundings, you can set up the candles to light as much of the scene as possible. For example, a romantic table top setting would benefit with the use of candlelight.
Adjust exposure settings – candlelight is not that intense or bright so in order to have adequate lighting, you have to adjust your exposure settings accordingly. A slow shutter speed will allow large amounts of light in the sensor but might also catch the motion of the candle flame. A big aperture means a big lens opening which will also allow more light to enter the lens. An ISO with a smaller number means less noise but it also means less captured light. On the other hand, a higher number will mean more light and a more grainy result. Understanding reciprocity and the exposure triangle will help you decide what settings to use.
White balance – if your camera’s white balance is set to ‘auto’ it will try to correct the warm color cast of the candlelight. Experiment with the different settings such as ‘tungsten’ or ‘indoor’ until you reach the desired result.
Use off-camera flash – an off-camera flash can brighten up other parts of the scene which can’t be reached by candlelight. Covering it in a colored gel can also add an interesting color cast.
Composition – creative composition can really spice up your shot. Candle placement, deciding whether to include them or not in the frame, using candles in unusual ways, the shape and color of the candles, having the candle itself as the subject, any of these can be used.
Create mood – the warm glow of candlelight can certainly add to the mood of the scene. It can be used to give a romantic atmosphere or you can go the other way and use it to create a sinister and spooky mood.
Tags: ambient light tips, available light tips, candlelight photo tips, candlelight photography, candles lighting photo tips