There have been several candlelight vigils in Dharamshala marking a series of recent self-immolations in Tibet to protest Chinese rule. Covering these events presents particular challenges to the photographer. Here is some advice on how to photograph under such low light conditions.
- Use fast lenses preferably with maximum apertures of f1.8 or larger. Usually a fixed 50mm lens is an economical choice. Large apertures allow you to have decent shutter speeds (still requires steady hands at 1/30th of a second) at an ISO of 800-1600 range.
- Crank up your camera’s ISO to at least 800 (more if your camera can produce good images at higher ISOs). Images can be grainy but should not have an unpleasant look.
- A UV filter in front of the lens could produce ghost images of candlelights in the frame usually in awkward places such as faces. It is advisable to remove the filter and store it safely before shooting.
- Focus on the eyes (it would be easier to focus if the subject is holding candle near his or her face) and reduce exposure (underexpose) from the reading suggested by the camera. A one stop reduction is a good starting point, check the results on your LCD and decide. The frame would look nice if the dark areas are black.
- Be careful not to overexpose candlelights. It’s easier to lighten faces a little while editing than restore proper density to very bright candlelights.
- Even with a fast lens and a high ISO, shutter speed can be very slow to expose the scene properly. Put your camera motor drive to work in continuous mode. You are more likely to get a sharp image on the second or third frame as your hand stabilizes. A built in image stabiliser on the lens (IS on Canon, VR on Nikon) or the camera body can be very handy.