Tag Archives: Health and safety

Twelve Simple tips for atmospheric candlelight shots

Candles put out a wonderful light…

Everyone feels the atmospheric impact of candlelight. The colour and the low light seems to draw you in. Capturing that light is easy with a few simple hints. Lets look at what is needed…


There is nearly always low light associated with candle photography. That means working with longer exposures. A tripod is excellent for that. Indoors, beware of a wooden floor, any move you make can be transferred to the tripod. Floor vibrations can ruin a shot or make it soft. For sharpness remember to use the camera timer for the shot or a remote shutter release.


The best way to view candles is by their own light. Because they don’t use a tripod many people are tempted to use flash. Unfortunately flash will over-power the candlelight. It will take out the colour from the light and tend to create hard, sharp shadows. It will ruin the atmosphere of the candlelight. Make sure you switch off your flash. If you need more light the you can use as many candles as you need to raise light levels. They don’t need to be in the shot, but they will keep the light the same throughout the shot.


First decide if your candle or candles are the subject or are props. This decision will affect your focus and how you lay out your scene. Candles can create a strong bright spot in the scene. If it is too bright the flame will form a burnt out white spot. Once you have arranged your scene, ensure that the candle will only draw the eye a small amount unless it is the subject. You should consider the placement of the candle in a way that might minimise the impact of the bright flame spot.


If all your candles are close together the light will tend to act as one light source. This will tend to act as a hard light creating more defined shadows. If you want the light to be softer and the shadows with less well defined edges set your candles further apart. If the light is to be cast on a face then soft light will be more flattering.


One of the peculiarities of working with candles is that the flames are subject to the slightest air movement. Unfortunately candle flicker is attractive to the eye in real-time; but looks like a loss of sharpness in a still image. It is quite useful in close focus shots with a candle to use an air break of some kind nearby to stop air movement. In a table-top study use a large sheet of card to one side out of shot. That will help prevent air movements. If not, keep an eye on the flames when shooting. Try to capture the flame upright or, if using more than one flame, make sure they are all going the same way. They look more natural that way.

Since candle light is low intensity, make sure you also prevent other sources of movement in the shot. They will inevitably be blurred as the shot will be using a long exposure. This will look like a distraction against still flames.

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Light intensity…

The light from a candle can be made much more intense if you use something to catch the light from the candle. A face, hand or other objects bring alive the picture and complements the candle. The presence of the object acts to reflect the candlelight. Light flesh tones are particularly good in this respect since the flesh colour is tonally close to the candlelight hues and they act as a reflector to bring out the light.


From “Candle Series” by Spicedfish
From “Candle Series” by Spicedfish on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Using reflectors in a candle scene is a great way to raise the light intensity. You can find other types of surface than the one in this picture in most scenes. Walls, ceilings and even off-shot reflectors are all good. Be careful to use neutral colours. Colour reflectors will affect the colour of the scene. If you are using a big card out-of-shot make it white. This will reflect the same colour light back into the scene, filling in the light.


The other side of light intensity is the shadows. The darker tones and strong contrasts of candle shots create most of the atmosphere. Spend time studying the shadows created in your scene. Strong contrasts are great subjects. If you create shadows that fall badly across your scene it will impact on the overall effect. The best use of shadows is often to the edges of the shot. If the light fades out to edges this holds the scene into the shot – naturally focusing the eye. Work with shadows to ensure the mood is harmonious.

Additional lights…

If you want to use fill light in the scene try to match the quality of light from your candles. Use soft light sources and natural light with hues matching the candles. Natural light will fill the scene well but tend to neutralise the colour of the candle light. The warm glow of candles is a great mix with evening, low-intensity light.

Some people use light with gels to give a warm glow. Warming gels can also be used with a flash. However, beware the power of flash. The candles will lose their soothing effect if all the shadows are taken away around the base of the candle and harsh shadows are introduced from one side. Typically use a diffused flash on the lowest setting – it also helps to be a distance away from the candles as well.

Multiple candles…

When working with one candle as subject the main focus of the shot is clear. However, there is a lot of scope for creativity. Consider two main issues. How to layout your candles and how to use the overall light with the layout. Using candles for making patterns is great fun and can produce excellent shots.

Patterns with candles

Making patterns with candles
Click to view Google Images “Candle Light” search

Try to keep the scene simple. Overlapping candles or indistinct objects in the pattern are confusing. Work with the sharp contrasts and keep your pattern well defined.


How long should you make your exposure? This depends, like any scene, on your light levels. To get more light in the exposure a long shutter speed is suitable for most candle shots. A range of 1/15 second down to 2 seconds is a good starting range with an ISO of 100. Camera settings vary significantly with reflectors, multiple candles or fill lights. Experiment to get it right. Aim to make the shot moody or atmospheric while providing detail for the eye to look at around the candle flame(s).

The main exposure concern with dark or shadowy shots is digital noise. If ISO is too high you will get more noise. It is better to use a low ISO, say 100 and have longer shutter opening. This reduces noise and means more detail is visible.


A fast lens allows a wider aperture. Faster lenses will allow a quicker exposure than a smaller aperture. Nevertheless, when experimenting check the depth of field. With big candle patterns, or larger subjects, a very wide aperture will give a very shallow depth of field. Too shallow and you will lose a lot of detail. On the other hand, lots of candles in the background with a shallow depth of field will produce pleasing bokeh. For choosing your lens, more than other aspects of your set-up, you need to have a clear vision of what you want your final shot to look like. Then do some “Chimping” to check results.

Prime lenses, especially the 50mm, will give an approximation to the human eyes. To capture the mood of a scene a 50mm will help. A wide angle lens close-up can provide great exaggerations of candle tallness or broadness – depending on lens orientation. There is great scope for artistic interpretation. Also remember that zoom lenses tend to foreshorten, reducing the apparent depth of the shot. With a zoom lens place your candles to give an impression of depth.

White balance…

The warm glow of candles is attractive. If you change the white balance you will change the characteristics of the warm glow. Candlelight shots are about moodiness and atmosphere. It is worth playing with the white balance to influence the shot and increase moodiness, but be careful you don’t remove it. You only need to adjust white balance when shooting in *.jpg as it will be fixed once the shot is taken. If you are shooting in RAW you have more flexibility with settings in post processing to control colours and the final exposure. If you cannot shoot in RAW then, again, make sure you do some “chimping” to get the colours right.

Being safe…

Although fun, candles are naked flames. It is all too easy in low light to leave something close to the candle. Fires start quickly and spread fast too. Feel free to experiment but make sure you don’t accidentally knock over candles, touch wall paper with one or do something else to set off a fire. Never leave candles alight and unattended. Always blow them out and wait for the smoke stop raising before leaving.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

How to take quick and easy photographs of fire

There is something deeply compulsive about fire.

It is almost a primal urge to be fascinated by it. Yes, it is fun to photograph it too. Fire provides all sorts of patterns, colours tones and light intensities. Here are some quick tips and tricks with a method to help you start experimenting with fire.

Three problem with fire…

1. Of course there is an issue with health and safety. Any bare flame is a danger. So try to be very careful to isolate your fire work area so you are not likely to catch anything alight near were you are working. I would advise working outside, or at least on a concrete-floored outhouse so you do not threaten your home, or set off alarms. Do not allow children near you when working with bare flames.

2. The main problem with fire for a photographer is that the fire creates its own brightness. You need to expose your shot for the direct brightness of the flame itself. This will allow the fire to be exposed correctly. However it leaves the surroundings very dark as they are not a light source. So, normally we would not point our camera directly at a light source. Ideally, we need to create a situation where the surrounding of the fire is actually dark, with no detail that we want in the picture. Then we can set our camera to take an exposure using only the brightness of the flame. No additional lighting is needed.

3. Fire spreads! So make sure that you have a fire extinguisher available if you try this exercise. Better safe than sorry.

On with the video

While I am a great believer in using your camera in manual mode most of the time there are ways you can use auto-mode too. In this video watch how he uses the ‘P’ mode (program mode). He takes a few exposures using the program setting so that he can get a reasonable idea of the settings the camera considers appropriate. Then, once the camera has helped him set a base line he can start working with manual to get the exposure he wants.

One other point before we get to the video. It is darkness which makes this shot work. Make the room completely dark while doing the shot. You will notice that the photographer has set up the background with black matte board. It is possible to use other subdued colours. However the black creates a very high contrast which is ideal for shooting a light source like fire.

Enjoy the video…

Video provided by LearnMyShot on Apr 22, 2010 [http://learnmyshot.com] Presented by Robert Grant.

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The Danger in Action Shots

Extending your skills – safely (Action shots Pt 3)

I am going to take you on a ride over the next few posts. We will be looking at some techniques to extend your skills with action shots. For now I include two videos. They are fun – you just have to laugh otherwise you would cry. However, they serve as a reminder that action shots can be dangerous. You should be aware that you and your camera can be in harms way. Enjoy these, but watch yourself!

More after the jump…

Knowing Your Wildlife Subject

Find out everything you can about your wildlife subject

Find out everything you can about your wildlife subject. It will save you time and you stand a better chance of getting the shot you want.

Do your research in good time before your trip

Photographing wildlife is one of the most satisfying photographic subjects. When we get a great shot we feel terrific. However, if your back-to-nature shot is to be a success then you should make sure you know what you are doing. Preparation and research is essential. Find out how to improve your chance of a good wildlife shot.

Define the shot you want

For any sort of wildlife consider what you want to achieve… and what is practical. Doing a Google image search for the animal you want to shoot will reveal hundreds of pictures that relate to your subject. It really helps to go through those and see what is possible, and what you like. Getting ideas about shots will help you to visualise what works. On location it will also help you clarify ideas for when and how to take the shot. Pick out a few pictures you like. Review them often to keep what you want in your mind.

Research the creature

A lot of photographers go on location to photograph a particular animal and never see one. They appear on location assuming they will find an animal but don’t know where ‘exactly’ to look or when. Wildlife is often rare, shy, wary of humans or deep in the natural cover of the landscape. Knowing roughly where an animal or bird lives is definitely not the same as knowing its habitat or how it uses its environment. Read up on Wildlife Photography. Make time to learn the nesting, habits, feeding and hunting activities. Without a good knowledge of these you will stand little chance of tracking down your intended animal. Read the work of experts. Then you will be able to build up a complete understanding of the animal and how to photograph it in the wild.

Health and safety

This is about both you and the animal. Wild animals are just that – wild. If you disturb them they may, in their surprise, attack you. On the other hand, if you surprise them they may abandon a nest or kill their own young as a result of the stress. Often wild animals are only found in wild places too. Most of us today are not used to these places and don’t know the ways of the country very well. Chasing an animal down in unfamiliar territory (mountains, wild open areas etc) could prove hazardous to you. Particularly in the winter.

Get to know the shots and the areas where you will get them by going on guided shoots. There are lots of companies that specialize in overseas and local wildlife shoots. They will know when the animals will be visible and where to find them. They probably have great hides to use while observing and imaging your chosen beast. They will also be able to show you what is the best equipment to use for photographing and tracking down you chosen animal.

Get trained up to cope with the environment you will be shooting in. Too many people each year get lost or die because they had no idea how to cope with the conditions they encountered. That could have been avoided with a few simple, and fun, sessions with expert trainers.

Knowing the moods of your subject

Using guides will help you get to know more about what you can reasonably expect from a shoot. You will find out about the animals moods or habits and what time of day it is out-and-about. The mood of an animal is all-important to the shot. Catch it doing anything natural and you have the type of shot that is a winner. However, if an animal is stressed or wary, scared or protecting young – your shot is unlikely to be what you want. Knowing the mood and normal activities of an animal is crucial to getting the candid shots that make great photos.
More after the jump…


Great wildlife shots are also about Composition. A good wildlife photographer works within the environment. They know all about where they are and what they are after. They place themselves in locations for the best shot of their animals. If you don’t have a natural and pleasing background for your shot all your efforts will be wasted with the animal. Hides, walls, tracks, vehicles, local roads and buildings can all impact your shot. So you need to give careful consideration to not only the location of the shoot, but where you will be pointing the camera when the animal happens past.


Wildlife photography can be very time consuming. Good wildlife photographers may wait weeks for a particular shot, or some such length of time. If you visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year External link - opens new tab/page website you will see comments next to shots by the winners about the photos. Sometimes they mention their preparation and time. It is useful to see what is involved.

Don’t always expect to come back with what you want. You may be lucky. I hope you are. But, whatever, be patient. Wildlife photography is great fun, very rewarding and often fruitful. Success only comes consistently if you know what you are doing.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.