Candles can enable highly atmospheric shots, but they can also be a challenge to capture, as they have bright flames yet don't emit much ambient light. That means if we expose
for the flames then the rest of the scene will be near-dark, but if we expose for the surroundings then the flames will be blown out. Choosing which to prioritise will depend on what effect you'd like to achieve.
It is often better to expose for the brighter element in frame, as it's easier to lift shadows in post-production than to rectify blown-out highlights. In addition, see if you can lift your exposure very slightly to give a small boost to your shadows without blowing out the highlights. If your camera has it, try using Zebra mode when filming video, which highlights overexposed parts of a frame in a zebra-print pattern, enabling you to maximise your shadows while ensuring you haven't pushed your highlights too far. For stills, the highlight alert can help in playback mode to check if the taken image has any burned out areas. Shooting in RAW format
will also give you much greater flexibility when it comes to post-production using image editing software such as Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP).
Set your camera to Manual (M) mode to override your camera's automatic pop-up flash. This will avoid overpowering the delicate light of the candle flame. Set your aperture to f/4 and ISO100, then vary your shutter speed between 1/20 and 1/2000 sec to see how different shutter speeds affect the look of the candles. You can also use fill-in flash
, also known as Daylight flash, which is a burst of light which adds light to shadow areas and brings out detail in your subject. The Canon Photo Companion
app includes an article about taking portraits in candlelight, which explores this technique in a more professional setting.