How to Take Candlelight Portraits, 10 Tips and Tricks

Daniel • updated July 19, 2022 • 8 min read

How to take candlelight portraits, 10 Tips and Tricks

Using candles to photograph properly lit portraits is a successful technique, with the warm light creating an emotive ambiance.

The results might be magnificent, with the warm glow of flickering flames reflecting off your subject’s face, but shooting in such a low light atmosphere can be difficult.

However, for the finest outcomes, you must employ a few crucial approaches to your candlelight portraits photography.


 

Taking photos by candlelight was a difficult task in the past. Film sensitivities were lower than in modern cameras, and focusing in low-light situations was much more difficult.

Autofocus sensors today perform well in low-light environments, and underexposed photographs may be quickly brightened after the fact thanks to raw data. Images from modern cameras are usable well above 3200 ISO.

1. Choosing the right time

To allow the candles to shine brightly, all other light sources should be turned off or dimmed somewhat. As a result, it is preferable to wait until it is completely dark outside before turning off the ceiling light.

If a completely black background is too severe for you, you can take photos during twilight, when there is still residual light shining into the room from outside, or use a subtle interior light to softly illuminate the scene.

For example, the light from a smartphone screen (beware, it has a bright blue hue) or a dimmable floor lamp is ideal. In addition to providing a more uniform overall illumination, the additional light makes it easier to focus using autofocus, which can be difficult in pure candlelight.

2. Place your model correctly

Aside from the light sources, the subject’s position is critical. Candles create harsh shadows. If you want an evenly lit face in the image, make sure the model is staring directly into the candle – from above or, better yet, at eye level.

However, persons with long hair, especially youngsters, should exercise caution: if you come too close to the candle, the hair may catch fire.

3. Add candles to the scene

The most difficult thing about taking pictures with candles is that you don’t have much light to work with. If you use more candles, you’ll get more light, which gives you some more freedom with your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture settings.

4. Positioning the candles

If you only use one candle or put a lot of candles close together in one spot, the shadows on your subject’s face will be darker and sharper. Maybe this is the look you’re going for, but most of the time you’ll want the light on their face to be more even.

There are some simple rules for where to put candles:

  • Candles must be closer to the camera than the objects. If you don’t, all you’ll get is a silhouette of the person.
  • When the light comes from different angles, it makes different shades and effects.
  • If you are taking a picture of a person and the candles are close to the person’s face, the picture will look more scary.
  • If you put the candles at the same level as the person’s face, the effect will be warmer and softer.

It’s hard to give rules for where to put candles, and where you put them depends a lot on the effect you want.

5. Remove all other light sources

The purpose of candlelight photography is to create an effect based on the distinct properties of candlelight, such as its warmth.

To optimize this effect, be sure that there are no other light sources contaminating the area. A simple test is to extinguish all the candles and ensure that the scene is entirely dark.

6. Check framing, background and composition

When shooting in low light, it’s easy to overlook the sections of the frame that aren’t illuminated by the candlelight. There may be instances when you complete a shoot, and then later on discover a problem.

This issue could be an unfavorable angle or an out-of-place object that catches enough light to destroy the photograph.

To avoid this,double-check the frame before beginning to photograph. This extra step could save you a lot of heartache in the future.

7. Exact focus is important

Because of the low ambient light, autofocus may not always work exactly on the subject. When focusing, take your time. When dealing with a camera shake, it is best to utilize a tripod.

When focusing, modern cameras frequently allow you to zoom in on an area of the image and manually determine the focus. When you use the technical possibilities, you will get substantially better image outcomes.

8. Manage your camera’s settings

The proper camera settings are also essential for achieving a believable result. To adequately expose the photograph, increase the ISO value and open the aperture. Make careful you photograph in raw mode as well.

Candlelight is a major issue for automated white balance, but raw mode allows you to modify the color temperature on the computer later.

Set a slow shutter speed

A slower shutter speed is an obvious approach to get more light into your camera. Keep in mind that decreasing the shutter speed increases the likelihood of capturing any motion blur.

If the setting is perfectly calm (no flickering flames) and your subject is as still as possible, you can set your shutter speed as slow as 1/30th of a second – but any slower and you need a tripod.

Increase ISO Parameters

Raise the ISO settings on your camera to adjust for low light circumstances. Of course, the trade-off is that the images will have greater grain (noise).

If you can keep your ISO under 4800, you should be able to get reasonably clean photos.

Any higher, and you’ll notice noise, most modern cameras create great photos with high ISO values.

Expose

Because candles are such a brilliant point in the image, your camera will frequently underexpose it. You could try overexposing by one stop from what the camera suggests.

However, if you increase the exposure too much, your photo will be blown out in the cable flame area. However, if you increase the exposure too much, your photo will be blown out in the cable flame area.

Set the right white balance

When photographing by candlelight, it’s useful to start with white balance. Candles provide a really ‘warm’ light, which you should include in your photographs because it creates a lovely ambience.

If you have your white balance set to ‘auto,’ your camera may wish to remove this warmth. To achieve the correct level of warmth, experiment with different settings.

Shoot in RAW instead, and you’ll have a lot more versatility with white balance in post-production.

Turn off your flashlight

Let us begin with the obvious and work our way back. We’ve all used a flash in low-light conditions and been frustrated by how it completely kills any ambient light in a shot. If you want to capture the warm glow of candles, you must turn off your flash altogether.

9. Make use of a tripod

To reiterate, shooting a portrait by candlelight means you’ll be shooting with very little light, which means you’ll almost probably be shooting with slower shutter speeds, which will increase the influence of camera shake on your images.

Use a tripod to keep your camera as stable and still as possible during pictures, and consider using a remote shutter release to eliminate any vibrations from hitting the shutter.

10. 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.

Elongated candles, as seen in the illustration, should only be used if they can be securely fixed. Make sure not to spill any candle wax when blowing them out.

Have at least a bucket with water close, that you can use in case it’s neeed.

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


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.

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.


Conclusion

You should now have a solid notion of what to look for when photographing portraits in candlelight. The most enjoyable component of photographing in candlelight is experimenting with subjects and shutter speeds.


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.

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