Capturing Candle Power – Photography Experiments

With yesterday’s topic being Crafting Images with the Mid-Day Sun, let’s tone things down and go the opposite direction for today’s experiment.

Candles have been around for centuries and they have been providing the light by which we see the world at night for just as long. Many starting photographers shy away from shooting in candle light because it can be tricky. After all, photography is the art of capturing light and with so little light from a single candle, the task can seem daunting.

But that’s it, it just seems daunting. With a little practice, that fear can melt away (ha ha! wax humor) and you will find just how easy it is to shoot in candle light.

Here’s the experiment you can run:

It’s time to play with fire! You’ll need a candle and a dark room, preferably. I am going to suggest you choose your ‘fastest’ lens for this experiment. That’s your lens with the largest aperture. Forgot which way the numbers for apertures go? Re-read this. Also, don’t burn yourself or anything that shouldn’t be burnt.

1. Set up the candle in the middle of a table in a dark room. Light it (maybe before you make the room dark).
2. Place a few objects around the candle and then a few more staggered gradually further away, as far as you can go. Make sure one of the objects is white so you can accurately see the color cast be the candle.
3. Can you take a hand-held photo? Give it a try. Using Aperture priority mode, and with the aperture all the way open, and using matrix or evaluative metering mode, try to get a shot of the objects close to the candle. By the way, what did you decide for your ISO setting with this light? Will there be too much noise?
4. Then take a photo of the objects a little further from the candle. How fast did your shutter speed change? Did you get blurry photos either time? Why?
5. Now switch to spot metering. Point that center spot right at the candle flame from about two feet away and take a photo. What happened to the objects around the candle?
6. Still in spot metering mode, point the spot at something dark but near the candle. Before you take a photo, look at your shutter speed. Do you think you will get blur? Try to take the photo.
7. If you have a tripod, now is the time to break it out. If not, use some objects to set your camera on on the table. Try taking that exact same shot of the dark object as you did in step 6.


This experiment is really an ongoing thing. You’ll find advantages and disadvantages to using spot metering, so it might not be your best friend. Matrix/Evaluative will help you at other times especially if you know how to use Exposure Compensation/Bias.

If you want some great inspiration, take a look at some of Daniel Nahabedian’s Canvas of Light website.

Show me what you’ve got! Leave a comment and let me know how your experiment turned out. I’d be glad to lend any help I can.


Kamalachhi, काठमाडौँ, मध्यमाञ्चल, Nepal (NP)
Cité – Palais de Justice, Paris, Île-de-France, France (FR)
Devotional butter lamps are lit at the foot of Swayambhunath in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Central Development Region, Nepal (NP)
Close-up of tealights – Nepal – Solukhumbu District – Khumbu
Lighting The Path of the Siq, Petra, Jordan

Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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