15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography

15 Tips for Great Candlelight Photography


Happy Valentines Day! In celebration we thought we’d publish this post on the romantic topic of Candlelight Photography!

Have you ever tried to photograph a candle lit scene with your digital camera?

The results can be stunning with the warm glow of flickering flames reflecting off your subjects face (can you feel the romance?) but the shooting in such a low light environment make it can make it a challenging situation.

Here are a few tips on how to get that perfect candle light portrait!

1. Turn off Your Flash

Lets start with the obvious ones and work our way back. We’ve all taken shots using a flash in low light situations and have been disappointed by the way it totally destroys any ambient light in a shot. If you want to get the warm glow of candles it’s essential that you switch your flash completely off. There is of course an exception – see point 15 below.

2. Use a Tripod

Stating the obvious again – but shooting by candlelight means you’re shooting with very little light which in turn means you’ll almost certainly be shooting with slower shutter speeds that increase the impact of camera shake on your shots. Make sure your camera is as secure and as still as possible during shots by using a tripod and by considering the use of a remote shutter release to take out any vibrations from hitting the shutter.

3. Extra Candles

The biggest challenge with candlelight photography is the lack of light you have to work with. Using more candles will obviously produce more light which gives you a little more flexibility when it comes to shutter speed, ISO and aperture settings.

4. Spread Your Candles

Using a single candle or positioning multiple candles all closely together in one position will cause there to be harsher shadows cast upon your subject’s face. This might be the look you’re going for, however in most cases you’ll want a more even spread of light on their face. This can be achieved simply by spreading the candles out a little. I would still recommend more candles on one side than the other as this will create a nice side lighting impact – however don’t get the sides too uneven unless you’re after a pretty dramatic impact.


5. Natural ‘Reflectors’

The few times that I I shot by candlelight I made an accidental discovery that has been helpful since. I noticed that those times I shot my subject sitting at a table with a white table cloth that the shots were better exposed than those without a white table cloth. Obviously the table cloth reflected light back up into the face of my subject. Similarly white walls and ceilings can have this type of effect also (it’s slight – but everything helps when you’re shooting in such low light situations).

6. Fast Lenses

If you’re shooting with a DSLR and have multiple lenses choose the ‘fastest’ one you’ve got as this will allow you to use a larger aperture and let more light into your camera. My personal preference for this type of shot would be one of my 50mm lenses (f/1.8 or f/1.4). I would then generally shoot with the fastest aperture setting possible (or close to it) which enables a faster shutter speed and lower ISO. Keep in mind however that the larger your aperture the smaller your depth of field will be and the more spot on you focussing will need to be.

7. Zooms and Aperture

Keep in mind that when you’re shooting with many zoom lenses that the maximum aperture changes throughout the focal length range. ie shooting at the widest setting on many zooms will give you a larger aperture than when you zoom in. As a result it might be better to move in closer to your subject with a wider angle focal range than using the zoom.

8. Context and Backgrounds

Compositionally I like to keep these types of shots as uncluttered and simple as possible. I will generally shoot in front of a white background (keep an eye on harsh shadows cast by your subject and consider one or two behind them) and with minimal props. It might be appropriate to include a glass of wine and some basic table settings if you’re going for a shot at a table – but the less distractions that you have in the shot the better.


9. Shutter Speed

An obvious way to let more light into your camera is to choose a slower shutter speed. Keep in mind that as you decrease shutter speed you increase the chances of capturing any movement (both of your subject, the flames of candles and movement of your camera). If the environment is completely still (so flames are not flickering) and with a subject keeping as still as possible you might set your shutter speed as slow as 1/15th of a second – but any slower and you might be asking too much of your subject.

10. ISO Settings

Another way to compensate for low light environments is to increase the ISO settings on your camera. Of course the trade off of doing this is shots with more grain (noise) in them. Attempt to keep your ISO under 400 if you can and you should get reasonably clean shots. Any higher and you’ll start noticing the noise – especially if you’re blowing shots up to larger sizes.

11. Expose

If candles are in the shot, your camera will usually underexpose the shot as it’ll see them as such a bright spot. You might want to try overexposing by a stop from what the camera recommends. Don’t beef up exposure too much however or you’ll end up with your candles being burnt out spots in your image.

12. White Balance

It is well worth experimenting with white balance when shooting by candle light. Candles emit a very ‘warm’ light – something that you’ll want to include in your shots as it creates a wonderful atmosphere. However your camera may want to get rid of this warmth if you have white balance set to ‘auto’. Try different settings to get the right level of warmth (I find ‘indoor’ or ‘tungsten’ settings can work). Alternatively shoot in RAW and you’ll have a lot more flexibility with white balance in your post processing.


13. Composition of Candles

There are two main ways to deal with candles in a compositional senses – you can include them in the shot or leave them out unseen out of the frame. Both alternatives can create lovely shots so experiment with both.

If you’re including candles in the frame remember that they’ll impact the settings your camera wants to us (see section on ‘exposure’ above) but that they’ll also create points of interest in your shot that can potentially draw the eye of those viewing your image – competing with your main subject. As a result you’ll want to position your subject in a prominent position and consider placing candles in a way that doesn’t distract too much.

If candles are in the frame you’ll also want to make sure they’re nice ones. Smaller details matter in portraits and ugly candles might prove to be a real distraction.

14. Other Light Sources

Sometimes candles just won’t product enough light on their own. If this is the case and the above techniques still don’t leave you with enough light consider adding a little extra from another source. You might have a lamp or a dimmed light that you can use for example. For best results try to give your extra light a warm glow by using some red or orange material to drape over it (be careful of heat).

15. Using a Flash with a Colored Gel

In point number 1 I talked about turning off your flash to help you get that warm glow from the candles rather than a bright flash blowing out the image. The only exception that I have seen people use for this using some sort of a warm (red or orange) gel over your flash. This dims the impact of the flash and gives it a warm light. You might also want to decrease the output of the flash manually if you have control over this. Experiment with different color gels to get the color just right.

OK – so now it’s over to you to experiment with Candlelight Photography! Post your results over in the comments below.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Genaro Shaffer November 2, 2012 05:43 am

    If you're using a Canon your going to want a focus light. Especially for weddings that dont slow down for your camera. So mount a flash on your camera and turn off flash firing to only use the red focus light.

  • john j February 21, 2012 01:37 am

    This is a picture of candles being lit on a birthday cake. There was a window nearby providing some extra light.


  • Bowen February 16, 2012 08:33 pm

    Great article about candlelight photography, however I would like to point out one more thing from experience. If you used spot metering for this kind of shots and place you subject in the center of the view finder, then the camera will only expose for the center portion. This might increase the shutter speed slightly and adds drama.

  • Jico Gallana February 16, 2012 01:49 pm

    Here are some altar candles taken in St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Garland, Texas:


    Comments always welcome ;p

  • juan February 16, 2012 09:21 am

    Great, great, great as always!! Good selection of illustrative shots!!

  • Dori February 15, 2012 04:35 am

    Well thought out, thanks! I've been experimenting with candle light too, but mostly without people - I love the warm tone it gives to the skin though, I'll try to dim the source next time, great suggestion.

    That's an example of candle + other light and what an exception, an exhibitionist human being involved (luuurrrve shooting at festivals!):

  • Wedding Photographer Perth February 14, 2012 09:02 pm

    I find that low light has become a pleasure using the Nikon D3s sometimes I can push ISO to hand hold low light shots with great success.

    Wedding Photographer Perth

  • I.Gurel February 14, 2012 08:43 pm

    Very useful tips. Thanks.

    If I would enter the white balance temperature manually as a K value (instead of a predefined tungsten mode), what would be a good reference point?

  • Mathew February 14, 2012 07:32 pm

    very useful tips

  • Sreenivasa Sudheendra February 14, 2012 02:26 pm

    nice tipss.. :) i will go ahead and try today

  • Jeff E Jensen February 14, 2012 11:44 am

    These are all great suggestions. It's been a while since I've done any shots with candles, I need to add it back to my list. I did buy a bunch of candles on clearance after Christmas for this very purpose.

  • Scottc February 14, 2012 11:16 am

    Fast lenses, high ISO, and White Balance are truly the keys to great candlelight photos.


  • raghavendra February 14, 2012 02:46 am

    i have taken a candle light pictures long back


  • laviera February 14, 2012 02:32 am

    Do you think a mono-pod will work as effectively as a tri-pod in these shots to reduce noise? Thanks.

  • Varun November 24, 2011 06:58 pm

    Any ideas on how can one get rid of the noise involved??

  • Sharon mallinson November 8, 2011 09:19 pm

    Great tips. - am about to do a candlelit

  • shirley ordeniza October 30, 2011 01:40 am

    thanks for the tips,it really help me.

  • Terry September 25, 2011 02:39 pm

    I liked the candle light photography tips here. The one thing I would add (which is more common sense than photography based) is keep safety in mind. Fire can be no laughing matter, so ensure everyone is careful, and have a plan in case something is tipped over. Have fun!

  • jae December 28, 2010 05:22 pm

    ...cool,.i just tried shooting with a low aperture and it works..d result is owe some...

  • Mark G November 19, 2010 03:29 am

    Really good tips! Time to try them out! = ]

  • kaushik samanta July 29, 2010 03:42 am

    thanx 4 the great tips .... please add more photos

  • Judi Kenney July 25, 2010 02:49 am

    thanks for the tips. I was planning an outdoor shot w/five kids among tea lights. After reading this, I will try this indoors as well.

  • Jason Lucas March 14, 2010 03:20 am

    Learn to shoot without a flash. Just turn it off when you're learning. It's easy to use a flash, but very very difficult to use a flash WELL. Also note that expensive gear will not compensate for lack of experience. Start with a good point-and-shoot... I like the Olympus FE-5010. It doesn't have manual settings, per se, but it has a tack-sharp lens, and can take some good "macro" shots (closeups with "blurred background" or shallow depth of field). I believe it's on sale at WalMart for $100 or so, to make room for newer models - I used it for about a year, and shot with it every single day, before I finally bought a DSLR camera. And I still need to shoot every single day, because I am still just learning. But turning off the flash, shooting every day, and reading everything I could about cameras are the three things that contributed most to my progress.

    Take it slow, shoot every day, learn as much as you can, and then TRUST YOURSELF. :-)

    Okay, I'm off my soapbox now. :-)

  • Eric F March 6, 2010 08:49 am

    Great tips.......the biggest one here is the fast lens. Canon has a f\1.8 for about $99 (go to 1.4 or 1.2 you're spending between $1200 to $2000). The f/1.8 works great! Also suggest shooting in full manuel mode, don't let the camera think for you.

  • Ang January 15, 2010 01:41 am

    Thanks a lot for this tutorial. Im trying to learn how to take photos of the candles I make.
    Im starting to wonder how dificult it was until I found your site :)
    Thanks a lot and cheers, Ang

  • Anne W January 14, 2010 12:02 am

    This is great information. I like to take portraits for painting references and my favorites have a lot of shadow with partial light. This is just what I needed. Thank you.

  • mark gibson January 6, 2010 10:01 pm

    thanks darren for the great tips your site is awesome look forward too your email every week

  • Partha Sarathi January 4, 2010 08:50 pm

    Hello Sir candle light tutorial is very helpful when i work on my assignments. Thanku Sir

  • Ed Churchill November 15, 2009 04:54 am

    My experience is to set a custom white balance. Using the expodisk has been very successful. I get very natural and accurate colors, including the flame, straight out of the camera. When I've used a gray card, I get a very good representation of the colors, but I need to do some tweaking in Photoshop to get the exact white balance.

  • Kim October 3, 2009 06:37 am

    Here's another trick. Use a low wattage bulb out of frame to help light you subject. The color will be similar to a candle. Even under expose it about bit. It'll look just like candle light.

  • BHUWAN May 24, 2009 01:22 am


  • Dependra Manrai March 16, 2009 01:54 pm

    Excellent tips that you have shared with me. My effusive gratitude to you.

  • Pralay Banik March 4, 2009 08:50 pm

    Yup i tried and got some extraordinary photos.... thanks...

  • Ashok February 21, 2009 08:14 pm

    It is really a nice article and I appreciate it. I would love to follow these tips and post the results.

  • Daniel February 21, 2009 06:36 am

    Very nice tips to produce a good photo for romance but i will use it for surrealism it will sure help and give an exellent path to see good and evil!!!!

  • MARTIE February 21, 2009 05:45 am


  • Dan Morrison February 21, 2009 12:02 am

    The reflector tip is one I haven't tried yet. Thanks.

    I've had pretty good luck with real high ISO settings on my Cannon 20D. Tripods are very helpful, but if you don't have one, lean against something, dig your elbows into your gut and don't breathe. Or just embrace the movement. The 20D allows me to dial back the flash as well, so I set it 1-2/3 stops below the ambient light, the result is that the flash can fill some dark spots while still letting the candle's glow show through.

    Here are some low-light shots (and tips on shooting them):

  • kumarraj February 20, 2009 08:42 pm

    very good tips , thank u

  • buck nelson February 20, 2009 04:15 pm

    Great tips, thanks for sharing. I'm gonna try reflecting the candles off of a gold reflector and try to move it around a bit.

  • Kim February 20, 2009 03:36 pm

    Oh phew! I managed to do 1-4 without referring back to this entry!
    I mucked up some other things though. With a bunch of candles in one place, I had a hard time not making them look blown out and overexposed.


    Thanks for the helpful post!

  • play4smee February 20, 2009 03:34 pm

    Good tips. Another thing worth trying when shooting under candlelight is highlighting things by "painting" with a dull torch...one where the battery is getting low and the light is getting a little dull.

  • bobbyd February 20, 2009 02:28 am

    Thank you for the tips, I think that this type of photography is really cool. I did not know anything about
    flash with colored gel. Maybe you could tell us more

  • Josenivaldo Benito February 19, 2009 02:27 pm

    As I told in my comment here is my first candle light session:


    Comments are welcome.


  • Josenivaldo Benito February 19, 2009 12:37 am

    Hi Darren,

    I read this post yesterday afternoon during a pause break on my work. I am not photographer, I just love photography and classify myself as a very very beginner amateur. Less than one month ago I purchased my first DSLR (Canon 450D with kit lens plus a 50mm F/1.8). Ok but why does this matter? Yesterday I arrived at home and was wanting some fun so I asked my wife: "Can I take some pictures from you?". Of course she said yes just at same time, she loves to be subject of any picture ;-)

    I asked she to lay down in the bed and put some candles in front of she and sometimes behind. With tripod, auto bracketing, self-timer (I don´t have shutter release cable yet) and 50mm set to F1.8 and F2.0 I shot many pictures. I really liked the results for the first time I tried. I had only 3 candles available and did it with no great expectations. I will try to upload today and share one or two using flickr. I let you know.

    Thanks for this inspiration.

    Things to remember next time:

    -put candles in something that protect pillows and bed clothes from it (I did some mess with the wax)
    -use better positioned candles
    -try with wider focal length, my 50mm performs as 80mm on my Canon. I did not have much space to take shots with more of her body in focus. (but my kit lens has only 4.5 aperture, I think I will need more space or new lenses - suggestions?)

  • Gregg February 18, 2009 11:58 am

    This is a great list.

    For myself, I've had the best luck when I've used flash, but dialed the flash compensation way down (couple of stops or better). Even without gels, this works very nicely.

    I love low light photography and this is a good set of tips for many low-light situations.

    This is my favorite candle pic to date, and it is with flash!


  • Webdesigner Depot February 17, 2009 03:12 pm

    Not only do I want to thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed explanation of each of the fifteen points on this list, but I also want to say thanks for finding such wonderful pictures to go with the text of your post. The information is great, but when it comes to a topic like photography, it's always really great to have visual samples to use for inspiration!

  • phoenix2life February 16, 2009 12:59 pm

    Very good informative photo shoot ideas. All the tips are useful. The tip about White Balance is interesting and definitely improve the candle light photo.

  • Ravenheart February 16, 2009 10:41 am

    AFAIK, yellowish or red light is COLD, not warm, light; not the same as warm colors, which yes, are the yellowish-red tones.

  • SNEZANA February 16, 2009 02:43 am

    I just want to say biiiiiiiiiig thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanks for all lessons and information in photography school.
    its real treasure.
    regards from belgrade :)

  • Ralph February 15, 2009 05:42 am

    For those with Nikon's D700 or D3, getting low light shots is incredibly easy and the results are often better than what anyone could ever get. I have a second D3 on the way and let me tell you that you have not lived until you can get clean and digital noise free pictures from ISO 6400 or higher pictures!! This makes taking candle light shots a walk in the park, heck forget the candle light, ask someone to use their zippo to light up half a room for you!

  • Hampshire wedding photographer February 15, 2009 04:34 am

    Good tips and useful for bridal shots. Having an additional lamp outside of the frame is a really useful tip.

  • Perry Crann February 15, 2009 01:15 am

    Some beautiful light. Great shots.

  • Christian Lin February 14, 2009 04:18 pm

    Hi Darren. Thanks for the tips. Now I'm not much of a photographer - No DSLR experience whatsoever.

    However this is definitely useful! I'll definitely try to implement some of your tricks to impress my lady ;).

  • Diyan Yap February 14, 2009 10:17 am

    I like those tricks, i'll try it tonight, Thanks Darren

  • Sergei February 14, 2009 09:39 am

    Hi. Excellent post. Found the 1/15 shutter speed especially helpful =]. Keep up the great work and thanks for this post.

  • remixoverdrive February 14, 2009 07:36 am

    Great tips!
    Also, when using incandescent lights with a dimmer, try to use the dimmer to match the color of the light from the candles (not the intensity). This will give you more natural looking results, and better overall color balance (since you won't be mixing two drastically different colors of light).

  • duktu February 14, 2009 07:22 am

    Very interesting article.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Jenkins February 14, 2009 07:01 am

    16. Get a Nikon D3/D700

  • David Lindner February 14, 2009 06:20 am

    Thanks for the tips, I was getting ready to shoot some candlelight images and was a little nervous.

  • wilfred sanya February 14, 2009 03:33 am

    This great i liked the idea of shooting using the available light. Because most photographers use the flash at all times that you do not get the right colours.

  • Ilan February 13, 2009 07:38 pm

    The photos in this article are amazing! Great read and some real eye candies here :)

  • Fin C February 13, 2009 07:34 pm

    Great advice, thank you. Oh, and in response to Anthony's comment, you don't need to read books or have professional training, just take loads and loads and loads (and loads) of photos, eventually it becomes second nature!

  • yande February 13, 2009 06:53 pm

    nice tips, anyway just a sugestion how if in the end of every tutorial, please write the conclusion, so everyone who doesn't speak english can practice it

    thanks for the tips

  • jay February 13, 2009 06:10 pm

    Great tips...just in time for some romantic candle light situations. I will have to try a couple candle shots this weekend for sure!

  • cheryll February 13, 2009 04:36 pm

    I am just learning photography and I love the tips that you gave. I am just starting out that is why I am gathering all the tips that I could find. I am also trying to figure out if I should enroll in a photography school so I could learn all that I can when it comes to taking beautiful pictures.

  • Gloson February 13, 2009 04:13 pm

    Awesome tips. I'm gonna try this. As soon as I get a new camera. Bookmarked it with Delicious and shared it on twitter. These tips are definitely worth it. Especially on Valentine's Day.

  • Lara February 13, 2009 02:58 pm

    I love this post! I've tried low-light photography so many times and always run into problems... this will help for sure!

  • Anthony February 13, 2009 02:55 pm

    These are really nice pictures. I don't I could ever take picture like these. I took nice picture before and some came out looking good. I think a person have to get professional training are do a lot of reading to take pictures like these.

    I used to try to take picture of product so I could upload to my website, I try to get that catalog look and its extremely difficult, I got the tent lighting and a $800 camera and I could't get the job done.

  • bashveank February 13, 2009 02:49 pm

    Another way to make use of the flash while retaining ambient lighting is to use a low shutter speed, while setting the flash to rear curtain sync. This will brighten up the scene and retain light temperature with the long exposure, but, as long as the shutter isn't too long, freeze the motion at the time of the flash.

  • Paul R. Giunta February 13, 2009 02:02 pm

    Great set of tips. I am excited to try this with my new D90.

  • Rohit February 13, 2009 01:54 pm

    Very nice tips !