Fine Art Nude By Candlelight
W Eugene Smith once said, “I only ever use available light. Flash light, strobe, flood light. Whatever light is available I will use”. We should all remember that the literal translation of photography means to paint with light, so as photographers there should be no form of light that we won’t consider when creating images.
The above fine art nude image was taken more for fun than anything else in a darkened room lit by nothing more than a few candles. To get this right obviously involves a longer than usual exposure and a tripod is fairly essential, but candles actually make for a beautifully soft light that is extremely flattering to the models skin and a photographer can use this to great effect in their fine art nude photography if they plan it carefully enough as I discussed in my book.
Due to the long exposure time you will almost certainly need to find a position for your model where she is able to remain comfortable without moving for a long period and then you will have to find a balance of lighting that works, so that you don’t end up with areas that are either completely burned out or totally black. This may mean positioning numerous candles at various points around the room to experiment and see what works best. It’s great photographic fun though and a nude model is the perfect subject to work with.
One point about working with candles is that the colour temperature is remarkably warm, so if you leave your digital camera on auto-balance or daylight setting you will probably end up with bright orange images. In theory you can correct that while processing the Raw files, but I am a great believer in doing things correctly at the picture taking stage if possible so I simply suggest that you take a few seconds to make a custom white balance reading before you start.
It goes without saying when shooting by candlelight that you have to be a bit more careful than usual because nobody wants to start a fire, especially if you are in a place with lots of soft furnishings like a bedroom, so I suggest placing your candles on trays that will catch the wax and make sure they are placed in secure positions away from anything potentially flammable.
You may want to use a reflector in certain areas which is perfectly reasonable but don’t expect huge amounts of extra light because the original source is so soft and unless you have literally hundreds of candles the illumination won’t be that bright.
You may be tempted to shoot at a high ISO to obtain faster shutter speeds, but it’s the flickering and movement of light in a long exposure that contributes to the softness you see in this fine art nude, so you may well find you prefer something shot at say 10 seconds on 100 ISO. A handheld meter is also useful if you want to measure areas of high contrast.