Want to create a romantic or dramatic mood in your next photo? Try candlelight as a lighting choice. Candle lit photos are absolutely beautiful when taken correctly. As this is a low light situation, there are some tricks to make sure your photos are correctly exposed. Read on for some tricks for taking great photos by candlelight.
First and foremost... turn the flash off. Like any other shot in low light, your flash can totally ruin the effect give everything a harsh, unnatural look. The whole point of the picture is to capture the glow of the candlelight.
Point and shoot cameras usually have a Candlelight scene mode that is perfect for these images. If you have a DSLR, shoot in aperture priority mode and open the aperture. A large aperture (low f-stop number) will allow the most light possible in which is helpful in a low light setting. Remember that with large aperture, your depth of field is shallow so your focus needs to be spot on. You can bump the ISO up a little but try to keep it at 400 or lower to avoid lots of noise. After you take a few shots be sure to check your exposure. Your camera will likely underexpose the shot because of the brightness of the candles. Use the exposure compensation button to lighten it up, but be sure the candle glow still looks right.
Check your white balance. If you are using the auto white balance setting, you may not get the warm glow you want. In a candlelit photo, you want warmer colors like reds and organes. If your camera is cooling the image too much, you will lose the intimate, soft nature of the candlelight. You may need to experiment with one of the indoor white balance settings like tungsten or fix the white balance in Photoshop.
In a candlelit setting, your shutter speed will be slow to allow the maximum amount of light in. I highly recommend you use a tripod. It will greatly reduce camera shake and allow you to get a sharp shot. If you have one, use the remote shutter release to avoid the vibration that comes with pressing the shutter button. Hand held shots will be very difficult and impossible for a lot of candlelit shots! Even with a tripod and remote shutter release, make sure your shutter speed doesn't go slower then 1/15 second, as your subject will start blurring from their breathing. Also, try to shoot in a setting free of drafts and ask your subject to keep still for the best shot possible. You want little to no movement. (Although if this is a kid's birthday party it's unlikely to happen!)
Not having enough light to get a good photo is a big issue for candlelight photography. You don't want any additional light sources right near your candles because they will detract from them. You may need an additional, background source of ambient light though. Maybe there is a lamp or dimmed light you can use to subtly increase the light. If this is a staged shot, you can also consider simply adding more candles. Obviously more candles means more light! Grandpa's 70th birthday party is a great place to try this technique out! The candles do not need to all be in your shot but adding candles throughout the room or area will provide light without detracting from the warm, romantic feel of the candlelight.
The placement of the candles will also effect the overall look of the picture. To spread the light more evenly on your subject's face and create a softer look, place the candles farther apart. If you want a more dramatic, shadowy look you may want a single candle or single bunch of candles. In any case you will probably want to place the candles more to one side than the other to get some nice side light. How you place the candles is really up to you and what you desire in terms of composition. Be creative!
You can also consider using reflective surfaces to boost the light in the photo. If you are working with a table setting a white tablecloth is helpful. Consider white walls or other light backgrounds when setting up your display. You might want to use silverware or mirrors as part of your setup. If you do use highly reflective surfaces, like a mirror, be sure they are polished and clean and that you do not get your reflection in the photo.
Try some test shots and if they are not coming out how you want them, consider the following fixes" If your shots are blurry or dark there are several things you can try. If you are not using a tripod, use one. You can also try opening up your aperture, slowing the shutter speed, or bumping up your ISO. Remember, don't go below 1/15 on your shutter speed or bump your ISO much past 400. If all else fails, make changes to the setting of your photo. Try adding more soft, background light, additional candles, etc. With a little practice and some creativity you can be taking beautiful candlelit shots in no time.
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