How to Take Candlelight Portraits, 12 Tips and Tricks

Daniel • updated April 1, 2024 • 5 min read

How to take candlelight portraits, 10 Tips and Tricks

Ever dreamed of capturing portraits bathed in the warm glow of candlelight? It creates a magical atmosphere, but those flickering flames can be tricky to photograph. Don’t worry!

This guide will unveil 10 photography tips and tricks to transform your candlelit portraits from dim to dramatic. Get ready to unleash your inner lighting wizard and shoot breathtaking photos!

1. Gear Up for Success

A. Embrace the Natural Light: While a flash can be tempting in low light, it disrupts the warm, flickering ambiance that candlelight creates. Opting for the natural candlelight allows you to capture a softer, more evocative look in your portraits.

B. Sharpen Up with a Tripod: Because candlelight is dim, you’ll need to use slower shutter speeds to capture a well-exposed image. Unfortunately, slower shutter speeds also increase the risk of camera shake, resulting in blurry photos. To ensure sharp images, a tripod becomes essential for capturing stunning candlelit portraits.

C. Boosting Illumination (Optional): Strategically placing additional candles can provide some extra light for your scene. However, it’s important to maintain a balance. Too much light can overwhelm the warm, intimate atmosphere you’re trying to achieve with candlelight.

beautiful portrait if a young woman, candles illuminate the background

2. Mastering Manual Mode

A. Aperture Opens Wide: Let’s talk about aperture, the opening of your lens that controls how much light reaches the sensor. In low light situations like candlelit portraits, a wider aperture (indicated by a lower f-number) is key. This allows more light in, creating a brighter image.

B. Shutter Speed’s Sweet Spot: Shutter speed determines how long the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. Slower speeds let in more light, but also increase the risk of camera shake. For candlelight portraits, aim for a shutter speed in the range of 1/60th to 1/250th of a second. This will help capture light without introducing blur from subject movement or camera shake (especially if you’re not using a tripod).

C. ISO Balancing Act: ISO controls the sensor’s sensitivity to light. Higher ISO allows you to shoot in darker environments, but it can also introduce unwanted graininess (noise) into your image. The goal is to find the right balance between ISO and shutter speed to achieve a bright image with minimal noise. Start with a low ISO (around 100-200) and gradually increase it if needed, while keeping an eye on the preview to monitor noise levels.

3. Setting the Stage

A. Background Simplicity: When working with candlelight, a busy background can be distracting. Opt for a simple backdrop that complements your subject and doesn’t compete with the warm glow of the candles. This will keep the focus on your portrait and enhance the intimate atmosphere.

B. Light on Demand: Don’t underestimate the power of a reflector! A white bounce card can be used to strategically reflect candlelight onto your subject’s face, adding a touch of brightness and softening shadows. This simple tool can make a big difference in highlighting your subject’s features.

C. Composing Your Story: Beyond technical aspects, composition plays a crucial role in creating captivating portraits. Look for leading lines in your environment, like edges of a table or bookcases, that draw the viewer’s eye towards your subject. Additionally, utilizing negative space (empty areas) around your subject can add a sense of balance and elegance to the final image.

burning candles all over the floor female model  posing and looking into camera

4. Capture the Moment

A. Steady Does It: Candlelight photography requires patience. Since you’ll likely be using slower shutter speeds, even the slightest movement can cause blur. Stay still and consider using the self-timer or a remote shutter release to ensure the camera doesn’t shake when you press the button.

B. The Flickering Flame: The flickering nature of candlelight can add a touch of artistry to your portraits. However, too much flicker can be distracting. Experiment with different shutter speeds to find a balance between capturing some flicker for effect and maintaining sharp details.

C. Unleash Your Creativity: Don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different combinations of shutter speeds, apertures, and compositions to discover your own unique style. The beauty of candlelight photography lies in its flexibility. Embrace the challenge and have fun exploring the creative possibilities!

5. Perform some safety inspections

Despite careful planning, the safe positioning of the candles proved challenging. Because of the limited lighting, accessories, fabrics, and image elements had to be placed near to the flames.

Here, caution is required, and a fire extinguisher should always be nearby. Because they are more stable, tea lights and large candles are more suited for photo sessions.

6. Conclusion

With these tips, you’re well on your way to mastering candlelight portraits! Remember, practice makes perfect. So grab your camera, embrace the warm glow, and have fun experimenting to capture truly captivating images. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and keep exploring this unique lighting technique!

Tools to bring your portrait photography to life

7. Frequently asked questions

What aperture is best for candlelight portraits?

For stunning candlelight portraits, use a large aperture, which means a low f-number, and set your DSLR camera to aperture priority mode. This will allow light to be collected in the photo, which is perfect given the low lighting in the area.

What lens for candlelight portraits?

Choose the “fastest” lens. This will let you use a larger aperture and let more light into your camera. A good example would be a 50mm lens at f/1.8 or f/1.4 which is a good choice for this kind of shot.

Use the fastest aperture setting, which lets you use a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO. Keep in mind, though, that the larger your aperture, the less depth of field you’ll have and the more precise you’ll need to be when focusing.

How to use candles for portraits?

They can be a light source that illuminates an object in the photograph but do not appear in it. They can be employed as a light source as well as an item in the final image. They can be the main topic of the photograph. For outdoor candle photos get familiar with outdoor photography ideas.

How to make the scene brighter for photos with candlelight?

When taking pictures with candles, which often cause light to reflect, you can use a white tablecloth. You could also use a white background or a surface that reflects light, like a mirror. As was already said, it all comes down to being artistic and playing with light.

How many candles shall i use for portraits?

Candlelight is not as powerful as other light sources; in fact, it is quite feeble. The number of candles you use is determined by the overall scene and the lighting circumstances in your room or location.

Try starting with one candle and check the photos, then build your way up and add more candles to the scene till you are satisfied. 

Anyhow, in some cases, a small amount of additional light source can be used.  Take a lot of shots and experiment with different candle locations and angles.

More about candles and stuff:

Style watch: Mini mason jar candles
Blue hour photos with candles
These candles make your home feel extra warm and cozy
Lighting your home with candles
Tea moments, candles setting the mood


What is your opinion on How to Take Candlelight Portraits? Let us know in the comments.

By Furoore team member Daniel
Daniel has been supporting the editorial team as a content creator since the end of 2021 and is mainly responsible for portrait photography and related practical topics around cameras, lenses as well as accessories.

Turn your snapshots into awesome portraits.



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