Candlelight Photography

I recently did a photo session where we experimented using one or more candles as the primary light source. Here is one of the resulting candlelight photography images:

woman lit by the candle she is holding
The beautiful Samantha Jo. holding a candle.


First: safety. When we did the photo shoot, we had a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case something went wrong. Also, because we are working with fire, we also have to think about temperatures. Soy wax candles burn at around 115-119°F and the wax makes a good hand lotion. They also burn cleanly, so there are fewer health issues associated with breathing in the same area where they are burning. Paraffin wax, which is used in traditional candles, melts at between 115 and 154°F, so it can be much hotter. And, when paraffin burns, it tends to produce chemicals associated with lung cancer and asthma with long-term exposure (CNN’s similar information). Finally, not a safety risk, but also worth considering is that soy wax is a renewable resource, whereas paraffin comes from petroleum.

Light (or lack of it)

The primary issue associated with candlelight photography is that candles are dark. Our eyes adjust, so it is less noticeable to us. However, the low light means one or more of the following:

  • Exposures are longer. This means no moving, including breathing. It also means that the camera has to be on a tripod. Since I normally prefer hand-holding the camera, this is not my favorite way of working. However, as you will see, the results are probably worth it.
  • The sensor ISO setting has to be higher, leading to more sensor noise. I shoot with a full-frame camera that has good low-light capabilities, but the noise goes up with the ISO for all cameras (digital and film). Also, with higher ISO settings, the image sharpness drops. To some extent, these can be handled with post-processing, but you cannot make data where there is none to begin with. The result of a higher ISO setting is that prints might have a smaller maximum size. Since my normal maximum is around 2x3ft, this is not a big deal.
  • The exposure needs wide apertures (low f-stops), which leads to shallow depth of field. Since many boudoir, sexy, and glamor photos have a narrow depth-of-field, this might be OK. However, it is something that I have to be aware of as I create the images.

Light color

The next issue is that the color of light produced by a candle is very red-orange-yellow (warm) compared with most other light sources. This means that white balance is important, even if I decide to keep some of the warm colors in the final image.

Light character

One advantage of candles is that they tend to produce soft light, especially when several are combined to produce the light. When I took the photo at the top of this post, not only was the dual-wick candle you see in the photo at the top of this post burning, but there were several others burning nearby. I had lit them at the beginning, because some candles get brighter after they have burned for a few minutes. They added some extra light to the image. Here is an example:

a woman's torso lit by 10 tea candles
Using several candles both provides more light as well as providing very soft light which tends to be more flattering for most people. This is the beautiful Samantha Jo.

Blended light sources

Another interesting thing to do is to not rely on the candle as the only source of light. This requires setting the exposure so that it shows the candle (as mentioned, not a bright source of light) with the other light. It also means that the different sources of light need to be similar in color. Simply adding in daylight or a flash will mean that the image has a very warm light from the candle and daylight and flash are much cooler (bluer). Mixed light sources can cause shadows to have a color cast, something that can be a real pain to deal with. Blended candle light will be the subject of a future blog post.


After taking care of safety, candles produce a warm, soft light that makes for beautiful photos. However, because it is not very bright, it also brings with it some challenges. I look forward to doing more candlelight photography in the future. Contact me to schedule a candlelight photography session!

Why no unedited photos?

Sometimes, I am asked to provide just the unedited photos straight from the camera to a customer. I always decline. This post explains why.

Remember that the camera does not take the picture. I do. If all you want is whatever the camera (set by someone who has less experience than I do) can do and nothing more, there are a lot of “photographers” out there who will happily give you whatever their camera produces at a lower price than what I will charge. When you hire me, you are going to get a set of quality images that will display you at your best and you can be proud of.

How Raw is “raw”?

First, usually when people ask for unedited photos, they normally mean the camera-produced JPEG. However, they could also be talking about the RAW file, which is all of the camera’s sensor data. Starting with the JPEGs, I only use the camera-generated JPEG image for proofing—looking at photos to see which ones are good and which are the duds. The camera does an OK job of producing a JPEG file, but it does not really know the look I am after. There are some controls to guide it, but it never produces an image that is exactly what I want in a finished image.

For example, here are two versions of the same photo of Dakarra:

woman standing, looking over her shoulder at the camera
This is the camera-generated JPEG image of the lovely Dakarra Dolley. It is not a bad image, but it could look better.
woman standing, looking over her shoulder at the camera
Here is the same photo of Dakarra Dolley. However, this version has nicer color, details in shadows, has better colors, has been slightly cropped to achieve better composition, and is overall more flattering to her.

In order to best see the color differences, you need to be using a color-calibrated display for your computer. Notice that by adjusting the white balance, the image has better color. Her skin and hair nearly glow. The processed image has more detail in the shadows. I also slightly cropped the image to do a better job of making her the focus of the image.

The camera RAW data is not intended for human consumption. It has more data than will fit into a JPEG image, and few computer displays can even show all the data in it. The raw data is also uncorrected for white balance, which means that the colors can be (and probably are) incorrect. I have been using camera RAW format for years, and I have developed a skill at producing images from it that are what I (and my customers) like. Unless you are a professional photographer or very experienced amateur, I am probably better at producing final images from raw files than you are.

Producing “the look”

I have a certain look that you hired me for. Before you hired me, you saw examples of my work that convinced you that I produce photos like what you want. That look might or might not be what the camera produces. In my case, I work really hard to get images correct in the camera. However, I still adjust exposure. contrast, and white balance. I will have edited the photos so your skin looks great; zits and other skin flaws are temporary and easily removed. If you want, I will soften any wrinkles you have. The pose and lighting will highlight your best parts and minimize what you are less proud of. I know this, because we will have talked about it before we started the photo session. None of this is in the unedited photos.

Removing duds

I will start this section with a story. Several years ago, I was working for a geologist, taking photos of her research site and of her and her students performing the research. I gave her a camera dump of the JPEG images. Being very conscientious, when she used one of the photos, she put my name by it. Normally, this is a good thing, because having my name associated with the photo might bring in more business. However, in this case, she picked a photo with glaring photographic flaws and put it on the web. I asked her to either change photos or remove my name.

Every photo shoot has duds. In some cases, the problem is mine. I might have blown the focus, framing, or lighting. It could be that you were making a funny face or had an awkward pose. I remove all of these duds. The only reason to show someone the duds is when I am working with a new model who needs to understand what poses work and what poses do not work for her/his body type. Otherwise, nobody ever sees them. What I deliver to you is strictly the photos that I am happy to have my name associated with.


I work with a professional printing company to produce a photo that has correct color and looks as good as what I see on my color-calibrated monitor. Producing a print is not as simple as just sending the photo to your computer’s printer. I work with the printing company to make the absolute best print you can get. I select the paper; this controls whether it is glossy or matte. Also, because “white” is the absence of ink and all inks are on this background, any color in the paper affects the colors in the whole image. The printers that produce my prints use many different inks, more than consumer printers and low-end commercial printers. This means that the colors are richer and more accurate. The printers are also color calibrated, which means that the image on my display is what the print looks like, within technological limitations.

The result of all of this is that the print I deliver to you will look far better than what you will get from a local discount store, drug store, most web printing companies, or a cheap photo printing place. In other words, you are getting quality.


I want you to have photos that bring back memories of the photo shoot and your life at the time. The photos will capture your beauty and sexiness. They are a great ego boost for you to see yourself as I can show you in photos. They make a great gift for your spouse or partner to remember part of why the two of you are together. I will give you photos that are properly exposed, have good colors, and have no duds. The prints will be beautiful, and you will be proud to show them off. You will get quality.

Why not schedule a photo session today?