Create Candlelit Portraits

I’ll show you how you can create a candle lit portrait by mixing candles and continuous LED light. Hello I’m Gavin Hoey and you’re watching AdoramaTV brought to you by Adorama the camera store that’s got everything for us photographers. Now usually when I’m shooting portraits in my small home studio I’ll use flash as the light source but it’s not the only source of light that I’ve got in the studio because I also have some of these emergency candles and that got me wondering, is it possible to light a portrait with just candle light? Well spoiler alert yes it is but it doesn’t look great. In fact if you want great-looking candle lit portraits I’m going to show you in this video how to combine candles with continuous LED light to get a fantastic final shot. Now of course if you’re going to try this at home, flames and models, there’s always a risk so make sure you take plenty of care and precautions.

So with that in mind let’s get a model in. Let’s get shooting, so it’s great to welcome Jade back into the studio who’s going to help us with this candle lit shot. Now to start with I’ve got Jade just holding a single candle because I want to look at the exposure that we can get from one single candle. Now to do this it’s going to be quite a long exposure I can tell you now. So I’m going to be using a tripod to make sure we have a lovely steady shot. You’ll also notice well we’ve got this room lit for the video purposes but the photo you’re about to see where we’ll reshoot it once the lights are turned off. Okay so let’s get the tripod set up.

Okay and we’ll light the candle. Here we go and we’ll just asked Jade to hold that in front of her and I can take a shot. So the exposure for one single candle was a 1/6th of a second wide open on that lens f/2.8 at ISO 400 That’s not a lot of light to work with. So how can I get more light out the candle? Well the obvious way is to double the number of candles. So if I went with two candles I’d get one more stop of light and a faster shutter speed. Four candles would give me an even faster shutter speed with another stop of light. If I go for eight candles then we would have another stop of light.

That’s how light works. Unfortunately candles are not a consistent source of light so it’s not quite that simple but nonetheless the maths kind of works, so for that reason we’ll get rid of that one and we’re going to give Jade that. There we go. Seven candles, that should give us a lot more illumination. So there we are we have all seven candles lit. Now again I need to turn the room lights out to take the shot but let’s see how this has changed the exposure. The extra candles really do increase the shutter speed and that makes it much easier to work at those sorts of settings, however when you look at the pictures the light is coming from below which makes sense because that’s where the candles are. Lighting from below gives a very distinctive look it’s very popular with Halloween style shoots but we’re not doing that kind of shoot at all so to get a more softer even illumination, I’m going to add an extra light.

So let’s go set that up now. So because the candles are illuminating Jade from below we need something above to balance it up and in this case I’ve got a little continuous light up here. This is the Neo II from Rotolight and if I turn it on, being a continuous light source, I can actually see the effect straight away. Now there’s a few things we can do to this light to make it slightly different. One of them is to change the power and will balance the power once we’ve got the candles lit. The other thing I can do is to adjust the white balance. Now we have to think about the source of illumination which is candle light and that’s a really warm color of light. So I’m going to try and match that with the Rotolight. Now I’ve already added an orange filter to the Neo II but we can still fine tune the color for even closer match and we can do that by adjusting the color from the Rotolight. So I’m going to take it down to a much warmer tone, something that’s going to be closer matching to the candles and again I can do this by trial and error.

I reckon probably let’s try about 3,250. Let’s see if that works. Now I can’t judge that until I actually take a picture with the room lights off and the candles lit. So let’s get the room lights off, let’s get the candles lit and let’s take a shot. So here’s the shot with out the Rotolight on and then if we increase the Rotolight to its lowest possible power 1%, it should give us a nice little balance like that and I can increase it further. Let’s go up to 10% and then we’ll go all the way up to 25%. So which one is correct is entirely up to you and be prepared to adjust that exposure as you go through the photo shoot.

So this is starting to come together but the background, well it’s quite dark in the shot, so to put some light back there, I’m actually going to use a second Neo II and this is going to be the background illumination light. Again it’s in its continuous light setting. It is quite a bright light so my theory and plan is pop it in behind Jade, point it at the background and illuminate the background. Now the white balance on this light is set differently to the one that’s illuminating the top of Jade’s head is on a more natural daylight to white balance but if we set the camera correctly or adjust things in post-processing it should go quite a blue color compared to the warm color of the candles.

So let’s light the candles see how this looks. So this is working really well but I think there’s one more thing we can add to this to really make it stand out and that is well it’s smoke of course. It wouldn’t be one of my shoots unless I added some smoke to the scene, so we’re going to put some smoke in the background and then we’re going to rear illuminate the smoke by getting the second Neo II and pointing it towards the back of Jade. Right let’s get the smoke machine warmed up and we’ll take some shots like this One of the advantages of using LED lights is what you see in the viewfinder is pretty much what you get, which meant most of the photographs came out exactly how I wanted, however if you’re going to try this technique there is one thing you absolutely must do in post-processing to make this a convincing candlelit portrait and there’s an optional thing as well. We’ll look at both. Let’s do the essential thing first. So here’s the picture of Jade I want to edit and if I go in really close over her eyes I can see that the lower catch lights are there from the candles but there’s also upper catch lights which of course come from the LED light, so in this case I’m going to remove those catch lights by using the Spot Healing Brush and just clicking and sort of drawing roughly over the catch lights and they should just magically disappear.

Now the other thing I want to do is to create the illusion of snow in the scene and to do that I’m going to use a Photoshop action. Now this is a free action on my website at there is a link in the description below. What you need to do is head over to my website, Find the Instant Snow Action, just search for it on the site. Download it, unzip it and install it in to Photoshop. Once you’ve installed it into Photoshop, go to your actions panel, find the Instant Snow Action, click on the word snow and then click the play button, and off it goes.


The action is designed to create a duplicate of your image and then It will make three layers of snow each one at a different size. Now in this case it does put the snow across the whole image, so I don’t really want it on Jade’s face, so what I’m going to do is click on each layer individually, add a layer mask and with a paintbrush, I’ll make sure it’s a black colored foreground. I can just paint over any areas where I definitely don’t want the snow to go and that will remove it from Jade’s face, like that and there you go my candle lit portrait with snow is complete.

Well this really was a great fun shoot and I love the final result but if you’re wondering could you do this at home with flashes rather than continuous LED? Well yes of course you could if your flashes aren’t too bright and they’re on their lowest possible power settings, then that should work fine. You could even MacGyver something up, so replace this light with maybe a gold reflector for example. Imagination is the key to success when it comes to great photography. Now if you’ve enjoyed this video don’t forget to like it, leave me a comment below and if you want to see more videos from myself and the other amazing presenters right here on AdoramaTV you know what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to click on the subscribe button.

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