Home Photography Ideas: No Flash? No problem! Take portraits by candlelight

Watch Video: Home Photography Ideas – Take Portraits by Candlelight

If you are lucky enough to have a set of flashes, LEDs or studio lights, the current confinement will not prevent you from taking photos even if the sun is not on your side. But what if you don’t have a lighting kit or don’t have the right modifiers for them? How do you take creative photos with great lighting?

Well, this project is the simplest of portrait photography tips…using candles as main lighting not only allows you to illuminate your images at virtually no cost, but also gives you the ability to create beautifully evocative and atmospheric right in your own home.

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There are, of course, some best practices. First, we use a wooden floor to act as a reflective surface for the candle. Avoid places with drafts, otherwise the flames will flicker – like a candle in the wind!

Shooting at night with the lights off is best, but shooting during the day with the curtains closed should be dark enough. We draped black fabric behind our model; this area doesn’t need to be totally dark as we are exposing to candlelight which makes the background and surroundings black.

More candles throw more light on your subject; we found about 20 tealights worked well, placed in a rough triangle a foot in front of our model. They produce cooler, bluer light than regular candles, but since we were shooting RAW, we could easily adjust the white balance and warm up the color temperature of our image afterwards.

A focal length of around 50mm works well because you can fill the frame without being too far from your subject, which is great for shooting in tight spaces. It’s best to shoot in manual mode so you can control your exposure. Even so, it’s difficult to expose in one shot as there’s a stark difference in the light levels of the candle compared to the model’s face, but there’s a quick Photoshop fix…

01 “I said four candles…”

We found that using 20 tealights produced enough light for our model’s face. Tealight candles produce a slightly cooler tone than regular candles because the light reflects off their silver canisters.

02 Camera, lens and setup

We’re using a standard f/2.8 zoom lens – specifically, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L – zoomed in at around 50mm. Of course, if you want to shoot after dusk so there’s really nothing but pure candlelight in your shot, you can go with a fast aperture 50mm, like the Canon High-end but expensive RF 50mm f/1.2L or the fast and affordable Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95.

On our standard zoom, we use an f/2.8 aperture to blur the foreground and background, maintaining a shutter speed of 1/100s for handheld shots and stills at ISO500 to capture enough light while making the background dark.

03 Take the picture

We lay down to make the most of the candlelight reflecting off the ground – shoot higher and too much of the foreground will show up in your frame – then focused on our subject’s face before taking the shot.

04 A little Photoshop help

The model’s face is a little too dark in our RAW image, but this is easily corrected using Adobe Camera Raw’s adjustment brush, with Exposure +2.00 and Shadows +40 to brighten the face, while ensuring that the environment remains dark.

05 Candlelight Scene Mode

Some cameras, such as the Canon EOS 80D and 750D, actually have a dedicated Candlelight scene mode. You have to use the viewfinder when using it (you can’t use Live View), but it’s a handy preset worth trying. You can also change the tone of the color to increase the reddish tint of the candle, setting it to the warm tone or the cool tone if it’s already too red.

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