Candlelight Portraits Tutorial

Have you ever tried to photograph a portrait lit only by candles? It sounds great in theory, but if you’ve tried it, you’ll probably know it doesn’t come out that well unless you’re lucky. The long shutter speeds and large apertures needed make it difficult to capture a sharp image of a model, and the shadows can look harsh and ugly.

However, there is a way to create great looking candlelit portraits every time, and in this video, Gavin Hoey shows you how:

Hoey uses a mixture of candlelight and continuous LED lights to create his images. He uses two NEO 2 LED lights from Rotolight to provide some all-important fill and background lighting, and it really lifts the image. By placing one of the LED lights above the model, it gives a softer, more even illumination than candlelight from below would. He uses an orange gel on the light from above, and adjusts the settings on the light to give the impression of candlelight.

He positions the second LED light directly behind the model, facing the camera, in order to give some background and rim light. He doesn’t gel this light, as he wants a colder, bluer shade in the background. Hoey adds a smoke machine behind the model to give the image some more drama.

portraiture with candlelight

Hoey also shows us what he does in his post-processing to achieve his final look. He removes the upper catch lights in the model’s eyes from the LED light, and adds a Photoshop action that adds snow to the image.

If you don’t have LED lights, don’t despair. You can recreate the look in the video by using normal studio flashes, as long as they are not too powerful, and are turned down to the lowest setting. If you don’t have studio flashes, you could try using a few gold-colored reflectors instead.

how to shoot with candle light

It also bears mentioning that care and precautions must be taken when working with candles or any naked flame, especially if your model has long hair!

“Imagination is the key to success when it comes to great photography.”

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