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Photographing Still Life by Candle Light

Updated on August 5, 2014
(CC BY 2.0
(CC BY 2.0 | Source

"Based on measurements of a taper-type, paraffin wax candle, a modern candle typically burns at a steady rate of about 0.1 g/min, releasing heat at roughly 80 W. The light produced is about 13 lumens, for a luminous efficacy of about 0.16 lumens per watt (luminous efficacy of a source) – almost a hundred times lower than an incandescent light bulb.

The luminous intensity of a typical candle is thus approximately one candela. The SI unit, candela, was in fact based on an older unit called the candlepower, which represented the luminous intensity emitted by a candle made to particular specifications (a "standard candle"). The modern unit is defined in a more precise and repeatable way, but was chosen such that a candle's luminous intensity is still about one candela." Wikipedia

"Color temperature is a characteristic of visible light that has important applications in lighting, photography, videography,publishing, manufacturing, astrophysics, horticulture, and other fields. The color temperature of a light source is the temperatureof an ideal black body radiator that radiates light of comparable hue to that of the light source. In practice, color temperature is only meaningful for light sources that do in fact correspond somewhat closely to the radiation of some black body, i.e. those on a line from reddish/orange via yellow and more or less white to blueish white; it does not make sense to speak of the color temperature of e.g. a green or a purple light. Color temperature is conventionally stated in the unit of absolute temperature, the kelvin, having the unit symbol K.

Color temperatures over 5,000K are called cool colors (bluish white), while lower color temperatures (2,700–3,000 K) are calledwarm colors (yellowish white through red)." Wikipedia

CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

many photographers use candle light to capture images. Close up portraits do show very well when they are illuminated only by the light produced by candles.

Candle light is also very useful when you want to set a mood such as romanticism, a nostalgic look and such and it is widely used during the holidays.

Just like the small white lights used during Christmas that set the Christmas mood, so do candles set a mood of "tranquility".

A room illuminated only by candles seems to invoke a sense of peace and calmness. It is this same "feeling" that you should try to achieve by photographing simple still life.

But candle light, besides being a very cheap method of illuminating a subject, has many other uses in photography and they do not necessarily involve any particular holiday.

Still life can be rendered quite well when you use candles to light them up. For example flowers, especially if the petals have a translucent quality, show up very nicely as do other subjects such as paintings, food good, toys and articles of clothing.

CC BY-ND 2.0
CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

Something else to pay attention to is to allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone. Still life is not all flowers, fruits and pots, cups or pans.

Do you collect action figures or know anyone who does? The figures that have been created for such games as Assassin's Creed are not only very well done but are also very realistic looking. Take one of these figures, pose them against a dark or interesting backdrop, use a candle to shed light upon it and get in close while cropping any unwanted details from the scene.

The light from the candle gives the impression that they are in a situation where there is either a fire nearby or that they are about to enter a "dark and mysterious place".

Candle light can achieve this "feeling" simply because of the glow of the single flame and its incandescence qualities.

Do not worry about the light temperatures needed for photography at this point. You are looking for the "yellowish" color hue that is produced by the flame.

Set your gear on a sturdy tripod and use a mechanical shutter release since the aperture time will be long in comparison to other set ups.

No need to adjust your settings to accommodate for incandescent light either. It is to your advantage to allow a "yellowish" tint to permeate the scene as this too adds to the overall theme.

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Use a black backdrop for your shots. This eliminates distracting elements from the scene. A yard of black cloth should cots you no more than $6.00 at most stores that sell them. Set the cloth at least 8 inches behind the subject. This helps eliminates shadows since their presence looks unnatural when used for still life.

Use a wide aperture (f-stop) since this allows the maximum amount of light to hit the film plane/sensor and throws any details that are found behind the subject into out of focus elements.

Depending on the height of the still life subjects, try to place the candle(s) at an angle that creates the most striking and pleasant light unto the subject(s).

Place the lights close enough to illuminate but pay attention to how you crop with the lens unless off course you want to include the candles themselves in the shot.

Also be attentive to safety since a flame burns ( I know it's redundant to mention this but you get the picture).

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source
CC BY-SA 2.0 "The image was taken with a extremely high exposure time (30 sec) and the aperture at f/18"
CC BY-SA 2.0 "The image was taken with a extremely high exposure time (30 sec) and the aperture at f/18" | Source

Use your images for greeting cards and fine art prints. They can also be used by many photo related publications and if nothing else you learned yet another creative method of capturing great images.

Do not rush the project. Take your time and experiment with various size candles and how many to use per shot.

Try various angles and various shutter speeds. Re-arrange the subject to "see" how it shows up and choose the most pleasing ones according to your taste. Be creative and have fun.

This project is great for when the weather keeps you indoor but you can basically do it anytime you want.

Remember that you are the artist so let your creative juices flow and take control of the shot instead of letting the shot controll you.

CC BY-SA 2.0 "The image was taken with a extremely high exposure time (30 sec) and the aperture at f/18 using only candlelight as a lighting source. The fire-effects are "drawn" by hand using a lighter with the shutter open."
CC BY-SA 2.0 "The image was taken with a extremely high exposure time (30 sec) and the aperture at f/18 using only candlelight as a lighting source. The fire-effects are "drawn" by hand using a lighter with the shutter open." | Source

© 2013 Luis E Gonzalez

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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Trusouldj: Thanks

    • profile image

      Trusouldj 

      4 years ago

      Amazing photos.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      alancaster149: Sorry to hear. Do send me a picture.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      breakfastpop: Thanks, nice idea, I'll try once I find a wife!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      She's no longer with us, her ashes were scattered at a local beauty spot called Eston Nab on Eston Moor, overlooking Roseberry Topping to the south west and the sea off Tees Bay to the north. Worth a picture or two when I get my digi-camera!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      4 years ago

      I love eating by it. In fact, my husband and I do it every single night!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      breakfastpop: You're right.... I love taking pictures by candle light.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      4 years ago

      Candlelight makes everything and everyone look beautiful.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      alancaster149: Thanks. Hope the pictures turned well....and I'm sure your Ma is beautiful at any light.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      sallybea: Thanks, glad I could help

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Luis, let the New Year in with a bang or a whimper? We had rain here, but that didn't affect the crowds on the Embankment when Boris's fireworks went off after the last chime of Big Ben (watched it with the little woman on the 'box' after coming back from the local).

      I'm a big fan of Rembrandt and a while ago (back in the '70's) recreated a 'Rembrandtesque' picture of fruit in a bowl in low light on a long exposure (tripod stuff). Came out well on the slide, just the right amount of light and no reflectors needed. I was pretty chuffed with it. Another one was a picture of my Ma by lamplight, a bit more like 'Whistler's Mother' than Rembrandt though.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk

      LuisEGonzalez - this comes at a very opportune moment as I have a project lined up which will find this Hub very useful. Thank you very much for sharing. Best wishes for the New Year.

      Sally

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