I love candlelight. It is the one thing I really love about the dark season when you can light candles at 5 pm and enjoy the warmth and coziness it spreads. Maybe there’s something primeval about it – instinctively reminding us of the cave days? In any case, I love it and I like photographing it, too, but that has its challenges. That you need to turn off the flash and use a tripod goes without saying – you need to avoid drowning out the lovely yellow glow while also shooting as slow as possible.
Opening the aperture as wide as possible is probably the way to go. A fast lens would be ideal – anyone got a nice f1.4 prime? No, I don’t either.
So other tips and tricks are needed. Here’s the obvious one: have more than one candle in the shot. That’s what I did when I produced this Xmas pic years ago. To be honest, it was a bit of a fluke – I just shot and the outcome was better than I had thought. Not ideal, though, because some of the challenges of candlelight photography were not met: the image is blurry. The meta data tells me (early on-set Alzheimer – I can’t remember any of this. Thank Canon for meta data) that I shot this at aperture priority with a shutter spead of 1/3 of a second (hence the blurrrrrrrrr) and an aperture of f 4.5 (as wide as my Canon 350d would allow me) at 200 ISO. This was in 2005 – just before I copped on to manually setting the camera. *blushes*
Purely by chance I worked out a couple of other tricks that help when shooting candles or candle- lit scenes. On a mission to produce a self-portrait for college I deliberately made the whole project harder for myself by deciding to picture myself in candlelight. (Underlying reason being, of course, that candlelight is supposed to be kinder to women if my age… Well, kindness doesn’t help much when you are working with an ugly mug, but anyway…) It just wouldn’t work, if I didn’t want to crank up the ISO to sky-high 25 million. Mind you, the resulting grain would probably also have been quite kind to my crows feet… Anyhow, turning around in my location I eventually figured that I could get twice the amount of candlelight in if I posed with le candle in front of a mirror. Tada!
Likewise, tip number 2 happened on the same occasion when I realized that even bare (pale) skin reflected more light into the camera than my usual artsy-fartsy black attire. Off it came and yes, it eventually worked (after about 500 unusable mugshots…). I suspect, the clever use of a white tablecloth or a reflector somewhere near would have done the trick, too.
So there you are. With the festive season soon upon us, it is the right moment to experiment with candle-lit photography. But remember kids: Don’t play with fire!