The Festival of Lights: 8 Tips for Candlelight Photography this Chanukah

The Hanukkah festival gives us a special opportunity to take striking pictures, often using techniques special for candlelight photography. This holiday is also known as The Festival of Lights for good reason. Below, we’ve come up with a strong list of 8 tips and how-tos to improve and make sure you have the best family gallery from your holiday this year.  You could end up including your photos in custom-made Snapily greeting cards to commemorate the holiday.

This list of tips will help you nail your Hanukkah candlelight photography shoot this year. (image: Hanukkah, Eighth Night by slgckgc, on Flickr)

This list of tips will help you nail your Hanukkah candlelight photography shoot this year. (image: Hanukkah, Eighth Night by slgckgc, on Flickr)

No matter what the occasion, candlelight adds depth to any commemorative photo. Here are some tips to make this year’s candlelit pictures truly memorable.

1. Turn off the Flash: This is key to getting the best shot.  Even if the flash doesn’t ruin the shot, it will still take away from the candlelight you’re aiming to capture.  Some people might be able to keep the efficiency of the flash if they apply a red or orange gel to the flash to give it a “warm glow.”

If you’re still worried about the low-light environment, increase your ISO settings:

Another way to compensate for low light environments is to increase the ISO settings on your camera. Of course the trade off of doing this is shots with more grain (noise) in them. Attempt to keep your ISO under 400 if you can and you should get reasonably clean shots. Any higher and you’ll start noticing the noise – especially if you’re blowing shots up to larger sizes.

2. Lighting: Let the Candles Rule: The key to powerful candlelight shots is to actually let the candles be the source of lighting.  Make sure you turn off your flash, and remove any ambient lighting that could reduce the impact of the candlelight.

It's important to let the candles' light dominate the photo. (image: 'Hanukkah menorah' by skpy, on Flickr)

It's important to let the candles' light dominate the photo. (image: 'Hanukkah menorah' by skpy, on Flickr)

If you do need additional lighting to remove the shadows, select warm lighting choices, such as additional candles, or a lamp with a red cloth draped over it.

3. Placement: Move in Close — Candlelight doesn’t travel very far, so position your subjects relatively close to the the candles.

Zooming in close will assure you get the essence of the candlelight in the photo. (image: 'Candles' by PaulSteinJC, on Flickr)

Zooming in close will assure you get the essence of the candlelight in the photo. (image: 'Candles' by PaulSteinJC, on Flickr)

Make sure you account for any shadows on the subject’s face and place additional light sources around the room to reduce them as desired. For pictures taken while lighting candles, position yourself between the window and the candles. This way, the candles can fully light up the picture and the darkness outside doesn’t suck away all the candlelight.

4. Setting: Dim, not Dark:  This is related to the points on lighting and the flash mentioned above.  The right background is crucial. When choosing your photo’s setting, make note: Dark colors will absorb the candlelight, whereas light colors will reflect it.

A dimmer background still highlights the flames. (image: 'This Night' by nerissa's ring, on Flickr)

A dimmer background still highlights the flames. (image: 'This Night' by nerissa's ring, on Flickr)

If you don’t want to add too many additional light sources, use a white tablecloth below the candles, and a pale colored curtain, or white wall, to naturally light up the space.

5. More Flames: More Candles, Wider Scope: This is a recommendation you can find for other candle-themed photography projects.  You want to get as many candles into the picture as possible.  This is, after all, the highlight of the show.  But don’t let them saturate each cancelling the other candles out – spread them around.

Spreading out the flames as much as possible conveys the best moods in candlelight photography.  (image: 'Candles in Meteora' by echiner1, on Flickr)

Spreading out the flames as much as possible conveys the best moods in candlelight photography. (image: 'Candles in Meteora' by echiner1, on Flickr)

A lot of families like to keep all their menorahs on the same table by the window – this is fine.  Make as much space between each menorah as possible and find the angle that best captures as many wicks as possible.

6. Shutter Speed: To make sure you gain as much light as possible for the picture, slow down your shutter speed. Keep in mind that the slower the shutter speed, the longer it takes to take the picture. For this reason, a tripod is necessary. If you do not have a tripod, and sturdy flat surface can be used instead.

Pay attention to your shutter speed with your Hanukkah/Menorah shots. (image: Wisp of Smoke as Hanukkah Candle Goes Out by slgckgc, on Flickr)

Pay attention to your shutter speed with your shots. (image: Wisp of Smoke as Hanukkah Candle Goes Out by slgckgc, on Flickr)

7. Bring in the Family: Make sure you get some shots with your family and friends.  The candle-lighting is the big moment for the family, especially the kids.  Don’t leave them out of all those shots you’re going to take!  This example features a young son very prominently while highlighting color and spreading around the menorahs as recommended above.

Including family in your shots will add more depth to the emotion of the pictures.  (image: 'Aaron and candles' Aaron and candles by goldberg, on Flickr)

Including family in your shots will add more depth to the emotion of the pictures. (image: 'Aaron and candles' Aaron and candles by goldberg, on Flickr)

8. Other Methods like HDR and Long Exposure:

HDR - High Dynamic Range is renown for its ability to capture color and intricate detail:

High Dynamic Range HDR and Fire: Perfect for your Hanukkah gallery.  (image: HDR Birthday hand by jez.atkinson, on Flickr)

Try out some High Dynamic Range shots for your Hanukkah gallery. (image: HDR Birthday hand by jez.atkinson, on Flickr)

Long Exposure - Long exposure shots of light or flames create some amazing laser effects when the light is moving.  In the case of candles, depending on how close of a shot you get, you’ll see multiple positions of the flame merge in the shot, creating a bright star-like effect.

Long exposure and light: Long exposure can create a cool effect with Hanukkah candlelight photography. (image: Memories of Light by gringer, on Flickr)

Long exposure and light: Long exposure can create a cool effect with Hanukkah candlelight photography. (image: Memories of Light by gringer, on Flickr)

For more photography tips, check out Photographing Autumn Check out more of Hanukkah with Snapily.

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