Some tips on how to get that shot of your child blowing out the candles on their birthday cake. This chance only comes around once a year so you have to be set up and ready as it tends to be a shot you can only get once – or maybe twice if you’re-light the candles! The shot I’m thinking of here is one where your child’s face is illuminated by the candles as they blow them out…
This can be a really special shot, but if you’ve never tried it before, getting it all right first time can be challenging. So practice. Set the room up as it will be, put a few candles in a bun or muffin and set your camera up as described below so that when the real moment comes long, you are happy and confident that you will get the shot. This is a technically challenging shot, and you will get better results with some preparation.
2. Darken the room
Candle shots are far more effective in lower light, so turn out the room lights, and even close the curtains or blinds to bring the light level down in the room. This also has the added benefit of raising the excitement level for the child as the cake is paraded out in front of them – always a good thing on birthdays.
3. Turn the flash off
This is probably the most important tip if you want an atmospheric shot, as flash is generally quite an unflattering light source when shooting skin, especially children’s.
4. Raise your ISO
If you are shooting in low light, and without flash, then you are far more likely to get blurry shots because of hand shake. To keep your shutter speed up, raise your ISO setting up to 800 or even higher if your camera will support it. Remember though, that unless you are shooting a really good camera, much over 800 ISO will result in a fair bit of purply graininess in your photos.
5. Turn on Multi shot
I always have Multi shot mode turned on whenever I am shooting people – and it’s even more important with children, who never stop moving! Once the child takes their breath in, press gently down on the shutter and keep it down so you take a series of shots as the candles are blown out. The chances are that one of them will be a keeper, and this gives you a much better chance of getting at least 1 good shot.
6. Focus on the eyes
As always when shooting people, the eyes are the key area to make sure you have sharp focus on. If your camera has the option of spot mode focussing, then select this, and set the spot to where the child’s eyes will be as they blow the candles.
7. Plan your shot ahead of time
You want a shot of the child’s face lit by the candle-light as they blow? Then work out ahead of time where the child is to sit, where the cake will be placed, and where you are going to be. Get down in the position you will be in when taking the shot, and set up your focus point (see the tip above) so your camera is ready and fully set up before the candles are lit, as the child won’t want to wait for you to be messing with your camera settings. If needs be, reserve your place so the rest of family and friends don’t stop you being in position for the shot. This probably means that you can’t be the person who brings the cake out…
8. Get down to their level
When shooting children, it’s always a good idea to shoot at their level. Standing towering 5 or 6 foot above them results in top down shots, probably doesn’t capture their face but more likely the top of their head, and can also be quite a threatening pose, especially to smaller children or those not used to being photographed. For this shot, I typically kneel down so that my camera is just above table level, with the cake about 3 or 4 feet away from me, and the child behind the cake off to one side, so I get the child’s face on one of the vertical thirds lines, and the cake and candles on the other. I try to get the top of the cake visible so my camera is maybe 6 inches to a foot above the top of the cake – that way you get the candles and decorations as well.
9. Keep shooting
Keep shooting after the candles have been blown out, but recompose to the child’s face and maybe zoom out a bit. Very often, the child will be showing big smiles and throwing their arms up in the air as everyone cheers and congratulates them, so these can often be great shots to add to the candle shot in the album or slideshow.
10. Do some post processing
The shot I’m envisaging has the interest in the expression on the child’s face and the lovely soft candlelight illumination. When this works really well you get a very soft pool of light with the rest of the room fading out into the darker fringes. You can add this in on the computer by applying a vignette effect if the original shot doesn’t quite give you the effect, and you can also turn up the warmth so you get the lovely golden glow if the lighting in the room didn’t match what you are after…
At the end of the day, these shots are all about memories, and spontanous ones are very often the best. But with a bit of thought and preparation the “set” shots can be captured and become a treasured part of your photographic record as well…
Do you have any more tips for birthday cake shots? If so, please share them as a comment 🙂