A candle light portrait is something every portrait photographer should try. I’ve done my share with varying degrees of success. In this blog I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned over the years and then challenge you to get out there and get shooting. If your a seasoned pro what are you waiting for? Accept the challenge and lets see what you come up with. If you want a few tips keep reading.
There are many ways to get the job done but to keep things simple I’m just going to go though my thought process when I do a candle light portrait. First thing I decided is if I’m going to use only candle light or if I’m going to use mixed lighting. Sometimes your at the mercy of the situation; for example some sort of candle lighting ceremony (pictured below) is common to a lot of weddings. In situations like this your usually at the mercy of the house lighting. However, when I’m in control of the shoot I always opt for mixed lighting and the reason is simple; I feel it gives me the best chance at getting the best portrait.
Now, if your going to use mixed lighting you need to understand that most light sources are much cooler than candle light. On the Kelvin scale most candle light falls around 3000K give or take a few hundred. Most light sources, including speed lights are daylight balanced to be right around 5500 to 5600K. For lights such as these your going to need to add an orange gel to warm up the light if you want it to blend and mimic candle light. In the image below I used a temperature controllable LED light just out of frame to add a little extra light on the model and a second light behind the model just to add a little highlight on her hair; the rest of the light was candle.
Ok, now that we have the lighting setup taken care of it’s time to get shooting. One important aspect here is to be careful not to blow out the candle (no pun intended) by setting your exposure too high. This is very easy to do since the set will be very dark. Don’t worry, it’s a candle shoot; it’s going to be dark and shadowy. I try and keep my shutter speed about as low as I can go without introducing blur. Aperture, as always, is set to your creative tastes. In the above shot I chose an f-stop of 2.2 because I wanted some blur of the background but I didn’t want the candles in the background to be obliterated; I wanted them to maintain good form and definition but still show more blur than the model. With shutter speed and aperture now set the only thing we have left to get our desired exposure is ISO. Luckily with modern cameras and a reasonably fast lens you should be able to keep the ISO in a range that will not introduce too much noise.
The final step, if your going to use additional lights, is to apply them in a natural manor. The main thing is to avoid overpowering the candles in the shot. Aside from that it’s really up to your creative instincts. If you want the scene to look more natural, as if the only light is the candle than you’ll want to keep the secondary light scours further away. This will help the illusion that the candle actually the main light by making it look as if it’s coming from a very small source. If realism isn’t a concern than you can move the light closer which will make it softer and more flattering.
That’s it, now get shooting and share what you come up with. Either leave a link to your work in the comments or e-mail the images to me at firstname.lastname@example.org