I am aiming to take a picture of a model holding a candle light against a pool at the local aquarium. This picture is for an event titled "a night at the aquarium".

The pool shall stand as background for the subject. The pool has very dim light and has several big fish swimming in it.

The subject will be holding a candle light.

What I am aiming to achieve is the subject/model with a soft warm light (candle), and the pool in the background as it is.

I understand that I should be using a flash actioned remotely on a tripod.

Can anyone tell me more about the settings, both on camera and on the flash. I will be using a FX camera with a 24-70 2.8.

  • Why do you understand you should be using a flash? Flash from where? It tends to reflect pretty badly on aquarium glass...Have you shot at this aquarium before? How bright are the aquarium lights? Please give an EV or proper exposure from a test shot that you've done in the environment. Otherwise, how could one compare to the light of a candle in order to equalize the exposure? – OnBreak. Feb 11 '19 at 17:48
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    Hello Andrea, @Hueco is right. I consider myself as someone with experience in low key photography and what you are asking, is not really low key but something a little different and more complex. Pls send a test shot and what Hueco has suggested. I for one would love to see the complexity of the shoot. There are many experienced individuals who will love to help – Abdul N Quraishi Feb 11 '19 at 21:52
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    Piggybacking off @AbdulQuraishi, it sounds like you have some inspiration for this shot...If you can't send over a test shot in the environment, perhaps consider uploading the image that is your inspiration and we can dive into how it was shot, so that you might be better prepared when on site. – OnBreak. Feb 11 '19 at 22:23
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    A location shot with stand-in model demonstrating the pose would be helpful, even without the exact lighting you will be using. "Pool" makes me think you will be above ground, which could be outdoors. But "aquarium" makes me think you will be in front of glass, likely indoors. – xiota Feb 11 '19 at 22:41
  • There is no greater teacher than experience. You can simulate this with a picture window with varying amounts of light behind it and in front of the subject. – user31502 Feb 13 '19 at 14:29

"Low Key" has little to do with the lighting... it refers to the tones of the resulting image all (or nearly all) being midtone or darker.

From your description I don't think I would plan on using flash at all... consider the possibility of compositing two images so that you can get the right balance of the exposures.


There are a lot of variables here, some depending on the scene and some just depending on what you want. Either way, though, this is certainly a lot more about the scene and the lighting than about any specific camera or flash settings. There's no magic numbers which will make this work.

You can light your subject entirely with candlelight, but usually that requires a long exposure and accepting some blur, probably in combination with a rather high ISO and the associated noise — or else a really big candle. Since the pool in the background is lit (even if dimly), supplemental lighting for your subject with flash seems like a good idea.

You might be able to do with a bare flash on a lightstand, but better, use a softbox — big as you can easily transport and just out of the frame. (Or an umbrella — more portable, more awkward to use.) It's easiest to work with two such lights — perhaps one to each side and a little forward of the subject — but you can also do amazing things with just one light. (The Strobist 101 guide is an excellent starting point.)

As far as settings: start with figuring out your exposure parameters for the background. You'll want a shutter speed somewhat slower than the flash's sync speed — it may help to have a tripod or image stabilization. Then pick an aperture that gets you the depth of field you want, and finally set ISO at a level that gives you the overall brightness you're aiming for for the background and surrounding scene. (Since you mention "low-key", presumably you want that fairly dark.)

Once you've got that, add in the flash for your subject. It's a good idea to get this set up beforehand with a stand-in if you can, unless your model is extra tolerant. Put your flash in manual power mode. Start at very low power and see what that does; increase until you've got what you want.


One thing that might be worth experimenting with: if you use an off-image flash at an angle pointing to the aquarium and a (usually circular) polarisation filter on your camera in the right orientation, direct light reflected off the aquarium can be blocked while the light entering the water is let through. While the direct light reflected off the aquarium will be blocked from the camera it will still serve for diffuse illumination and support the light from the candle without being overly obvious.

This technique is known as "cross-polarisation" except that you use the aquarium rather than a filter on the flash as a polariser (and the light entering the aquarium is polarised the other way round so you can balance the ratios by playing with the polarisation filter orientation).

If you use a flash, it's a technique for "hiding" direct light sources which might be worth a try.

  • It's a good idea, but OP, take note that polarizers usually rob you of ~2 stops - making an exposure of a candle-lit person that much harder. Just keep it in mind. – OnBreak. Feb 12 '19 at 20:23

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