How to Photograph Candles

With their wide range of shapes, sizes and colours, candles make perfect photography subjects. Learn how to photograph them here.

In can be tempting in photography to concentrate on the big, popular subjects such as landscapes, portraits, and architecture. This is a shame because there are many less obvious subjects which can produce photos every bit as intriguing and engaging.

Candles are a great example of this. They are very easy to find and are available in a huge range of shapes, sizes, and colours. Perhaps the best thing about candles is their simplicity, which forces you to think carefully about your shot, and can really help you develop your photographic eye.

The following tips will help you capture candle photos which are full of depth and atmosphere. Use them to experiment with this fascinating, under-appreciated subject.

Use a Simple Composition

Candles make interesting photography subjects in their own right, and often need no further scenery to make a compelling photo. My favourite composition involves just the candle or candles against a plain backdrop, and with no further lighting other than the flames themselves.

Close up of birthday candles

Candle photographs usually benefit from a simple composition with no distracting background elements. Image by Temari 09.

Adding other objects to your scene can help give context to the candle, and tell a bit more of a story. When arranging your objects, arrange them so that they cast long, interesting shadows through your scene. This will add interest and create a sense of depth in your photo.

Turn Off the Lights

It amazes me how many people photograph candles in full daylight. Doing so usually overpowers any light from the candle's flame itself, making it virtually invisible. It also completely destroys the warm, intimate glow you get from your candle, which is one of the things that can really create an interesting atmosphere.

Enhance the Warmth

Candle photos usually look best when they convey a strong sense of warmth and cosiness. Unfortunately, the orange light that they produce can often confuse your camera's automatic white balance, causing it to overcompensate and remove the warm feeling altogether in an attempt to capture what it sees as the "correct" colours.

Candle casting a heart shaped shadow

Use a white-balance preset to enhance the warmth in your photo. Image by Roberto Di Meo.

Switch your camera's white balance to a setting such as cloudy or daylight. This will give you a warmer and more pleasing photo.

Expose for the Flame

The flame is often the focal point of a candle photo, so it important to capture it properly, without overexposing it and losing all detail. Experiment with exposure times until you can see the different colours in the candle's flame - from the dark centre through the reds and purples at the base of the flame to the bright white peak.

Get Close

For a really powerful and engaging candle photograph, get right up close to the flame. Fill the frame as best you can with the flame and some of the candle body, and expose to capture lots of detail in the flame.

Close up of a candle wick and flame

Get in close and fill the frame completely for a more engaging photograph. Image by Niklas Morberg.

Alternatively, photograph a group of candles rather than a single one. This can add further interest and help to fill the frame more completely.