I have Nikon D3100, the 50mm prime lens, and the 60mm macro.
I only have candle lights and tube lights (on walls) as light sources in my house.

I wish to create silhouettes of still life objects with candle lights.
How should I proceed with it to get the best results?

Where are the candles supposed to be placed, and do I need a backdrop? How dark is the room supposed to be?
What are good aperture and shutter speed settings for the same?

What are the other do's and don'ts?

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I'd love to see you experiment and answer the question yourself based on the results! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jul 2, 2015 at 16:32

4 Answers 4


Nice questions!

Here is what I did to take the following photos

  1. Choose your room. It should be dark. I took my photos at night with only the candles lighting the area.

  2. Set up your still life in an arrangement that you are satisfied with. I used a serving tray table to provide easy movement of the arrangement to the background.

  3. The background, you don't need to get too fancy here, but you can if you like. I put the table right up close to a white door (about 8 inches from it). If you want to get more creative you could use some red or black velvet, or many other things that accept or absorb light depending upon what you want. I chose white because I knew it would splash light all over when the subject matter was lit from the back, and it would also accept shadows well when lit from the front.

  4. Place your candles. I found another box to place the candles on that sat just below the back of the serving tray table. This placed the candles about 4 inches from the backdrop and about 9 to 12 inches from the subject matter. This also allowed the candle light to come from behind and below the subject material. In my case I was using jarred candles so this helped hide them as well as light the subject matter in the best light. If you want a candle in the shot i suggest it be smaller than your background candles.

  5. Position your camera. I was using a 50 mm set lens to try and mimic your settings however I had a full frame sensor vs your asp-c. no worries though, just move the camera farther back. My 50 mm is like you with a 75 mm.

  6. Get your camera settings adjusted.

    -My ISO was anywhere from 400 (my favorite) to 1600 ISO. Usually in low light I like to increase my ISO a bit versus opening up the aperture or increasing the shutter time. I do this because I've found that the photo consumes more color and it also adds a bit more ambiance to low light scenes. Which might be what you want in a candle lit scene.

    -My shutter fluctuated from 1" (second), to about 5" timing throughout the photos.

    -My aperture was between f8 and f16, but i preferred the f8 setting. With the exposure set similar to how i had it you will notice your in camera light meter reading about 1 stop below the midpoint exposure. This helped me get my subjects silhouetted.

    -White balance was on manual mode and all the way down to 2500k, but I did adjust that to 2700k and I thought it looked better. This is just near the tungsten setting of 3200k.

And here are my results: Original Image

  • Original Image
  • f8
  • 5 second exposure
  • ISO 400
  • 50 mm (Full Frame)
  • WB 2700K
  • No corrections
  • 2 Candles behind subjects by 10" and flame just above table height
  • Camera position: 18 - 24 inches from subject, approx 36 inches from background door.

Image 2: Minor Corrections

  • Same Image: Minor corrections to contrast, color and clarity

Image 3

  • Same Setup: Moved camera back

Image 4

  • Same Setup: 1 candle to side, second candle same center location behind subject

Image 5

  • Similar Setup: 2 candles in front of subject 18" out perfectly in line with each other to cast 1 shadow.

Image 6

  • Same Setup: 2 candles in front of subject 18" out perfectly in line with each other to cast 1 shadow. -Shadow only

Image 7: Mask Silhouette Style

  • This is a mask style silhouette. I normally take these photos with a whiteboard or bright light in the background, however this uses 2 candles. The distance from the door to the candles is 4 inches. The distance from the candles to the 3D lattice object is about 8 feet. The camera is using an equivelent to your asp-c 60mm lens and is about 3 to 4 feet from the object.

Hope that helps. Happy snapping!

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That's a great effort. But silhouettes are supposed to be black. You have chosen glass material that's why your results aren't "silhouettes" sadly. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 8, 2015 at 8:34
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I found it hard to understand the exact look you were explaining. By moving the candles lower, increasing the amount of them or the exposure time, and increasing the distance between the candles and the subject/camera you would achieve silhouettes using candles. I wish I knew more about what you want for your end result regarding background color/brightness. _I chose a mixture of objects because, again i wasn't sure what exactly you wanted. Let me snap one really quick and see if it's what you are trying for. \$\endgroup\$
    – cliffclof
    Jul 8, 2015 at 8:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ let me know how you like that last image? \$\endgroup\$
    – cliffclof
    Jul 8, 2015 at 9:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ May I also add that a bright background reflects a lot of light... Therefore giving you a "halo" effect. IMHO the glass is not a real problem: the candle light is enough to design contours. Try to work with faster times, set only the shapes in focus (wide aperture, low ISO) and get the histogram as left as possible. Remember that you can/will need to adjust the picture in postprocessing. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 9, 2015 at 6:31
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I agree great points. If you are specifically talking about the black and white mask silhouette then the only things i'm hesitant on in your comment are the "halo" affect and the histogram as left as possible. I have done extensive testing with an artist LED lightboard and a high power Hensel freemask for background illumination. I've found that the brighter light works much better. Using high power lights our histogram was heavy on both sides, with shadows being to the far left and brightness on the far right, much null space in between. That was best to work with in post. \$\endgroup\$
    – cliffclof
    Jul 9, 2015 at 9:24

Since you like to create a silhouettes, you will need to backlight your subjects. Backlight as it name, basically mean puting the light source behind your subject. In your case, you will want to put the candles behind the subjects.

If you like a clean background of your subject then backdrop will be needed to have if you are unable to find a suitable background. It really depend what you want to achieve.

Try start doing your shoot in a room as dark as possible so you can control the light source and then you can work from there.


As previously stated, your best shot is with backlight.
I would say candle between the objects you want to photograph and a wall. Since candles are likely to be dimmer than artificial light, I would not consider using the last ones if you still want the candles to have their own effect.
My guess is that if you light the candles and let them illuminate your silhouettes, if the flames "move", they will generate an effect similar to a blur on the contours (especially on round objects).
I would also use the fastest lens I have with the minimum time possible and a reasonable level of ISO.
Of course you'd prefer having a dark wall behind your "scene", but you can also set distances between background, light source and objects so that the background has the faintest reflection. At the end I would suggest adding a bit of contrasts and enhancing shadows and lights in post-processing.


I think you will have a generic answer on this... (I'll explain this point at the end)

I wish to create silhouettes of still life objects with candle lights... Where are the candles supposed to be placed

Where you want the light. On the oposite side of the place you want the shadow.

and do I need a backdrop?

If you want a backdrop to show in the photo, you need one.

How dark is the room supposed to be?

Depends on that you need. My gess is you need to take the photos on the night.

What are good aperture and shutter speed settings for the same?

The apreture depends on the DOF you want. The shutter speed depends on that aperture, the light and the ISO you choose.

Why my answers are that obvius?

Becouse you need to experiment! You already have some notions about photography. USE THAT KNOWLEDGE! You don't live in a film era, where each photo needed to be done right without seing the results untill some days later. You can see the results right on the moment.

Take a shoot, see the results and make a decision!

If you have a black image move your settings.

The only generic obvious tip I can give you is, use a tripod.

My only "do" I can tell you is TAKE SHOOTS AND EXPERIMENT!

My only don't is Don't stop experimenting.


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