Candles have long been a source of illumination, way before light bulbs were invented. Having them as your light source will also add mood to your photos, as they give off a golden glow that also provides a sense of warmth.
Some suggestions when using candlelight in your photos:
Consider the low-light situation – candlelight is generally not as bright as light emitting from an electric bulb, and its area of illumination may also not be as wide. With low-light scenarios, enough light needs to be captured by your camera to adequately shine on the subject. This can be done having a very slow shutter speed, or a high ISO, or a large aperture size, or a combination of these three exposure settings.
Tips: If you are using a slow shutter speed (such as 1/30s or slower), use a tripod or place your camera on a steady surface to avoid camera shake. A high ISO may create noise, so keep it as low as you can. Also, take note that a large aperture size such as 2.8f creates a shallow depth of field.
Create mood with candlelight – candles come in all sorts of colors, designs, and sizes, so you can just imagine the variety of mood you can create by strategically using these. For example, many colorful, decorative candles on a cake can provide a sense of cheer and fun; a pair of red, elegant candles lighting up a table setting can evoke romance; and a solitary candle lighting a dark, musty hallway can create eeriness to the scene.
Candlelight has a warm color temperature, giving a golden cast that can be quite pleasing to the eye and further adding to the mood. When used in a photo, it gives the sense of warmth, of heat. Its intensity is also low so it creates interesting soft shadows, unlike the white brightness that you can get from a fluorescent light.
Play with the positioning – candles are easy to position and move about so you have a lot of control over how the light hits the subject. Experiment with frontal lighting, side lighting, and don’t forget back lighting, which is great for a variety of subjects. Common examples are jack o’ lanterns, light shades, and silhouettes.
You can even position your candle off the frame so it simply lights up your subject without being included in the shot.
Use candles in context – you can find lots of photo opportunities to shoot scenes where candles are used to simply provide light, such as with this example:
But over the centuries, candles have also been used by various cultures in religious ceremonies and special occasions to symbolize hope, faith, prayer, and the like. This photo below captures an annual candle floating ceremony in Reykjavik to honor the memory of people who died in the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Not only does the image show the floating candles in the water illuminating the people on the river bank, but it also captures the poignancy and solemnity of the occasion.
Lighting your photos with candlelight can be fun and rewarding. Your candle can be your main interest, or used to light the subject, or help send a message across, or help create atmosphere. From a close-up of a candle with the wax dripping at the sides, to a scene with hundreds of people holding a candle vigil on a field, lighting up the night like stars, there is lots of room to play around.
Just a little reminder: To avoid accidents involving fire, be cautious with the candle flames as you set up and take photos.