Picture Doctor

Correct your candlelight photography, protect your gear, and other prescriptions for your images.


Why It Works

• Fundamentals: Rule of Thirds placement, edge crop.

• Rule of Thirds: The base of the rock lands right on the grid line of the lower third. The jutting mass of the rock is concentrated in the upper third, and it is offset to the right, making for still more visual tension.

• Edge crop: The photographer resisted the urge to pull back to include the whole rock in the frame, instead, cutting it tight at both sides to concentrate on the single form. (Ian Frazier talks about getting in tighter in this month's Nature column.) Note how the curves on both sides flow out of the frame -- at the one-third point and two-thirds point up the frame.

• Oops: The original version of this photo had a tiny figure on the beach, but we edited it out. Reason? The beachcomber was too small for impact but too large to ignore.

5 Ways to Make Candlelit Portraits

What's more evocative than candlelight? Its warm glow really sets a mood, bathing your subject in auburn light. Here are tips to help you out.

1 Candlelight is dim, so shutter speeds will usually be too slow to hold the camera without blurring the image-you'll need a camera support. A tripod is best, but you can improvise by using the self-timer and perching the camera on a tabletop, railing, wine glass, or whatever is at hand. And if you have image stabilization, use it.

2 Candlelight is reddish, so set the white balance to daylight on a digital camera to capture the colors the way you see them. Otherwise the camera will try to cancel out the color balance it reads as overly red, robbing you of the warmth that's at the heart of the image. (Conversely, if you think the pictures are too red, try the incandescent light setting.)

3 Your photographs should be on the dark side to preserve the mood, so don't be afraid to underexpose your shots. The instant feedback of digital cameras lets you fine-tune the exposure and keep trying until you get it right.

4 If the light is too dim for a good photograph, move the candle(s) and your subject closer together. You can also light more candles.

5 Compose so that the background is dark and not distracting. Nothing should take attention away from the intimate portrait. -- Timothy Edberg

Problem Solver

• Dry wit: You know you're supposed to keep your photo gear dry, and to store it in dry conditions, to prevent fogging and mildew and rot. You could buy a bunch of those tiny, throwaway, silica-gel packs to pack with your equipment, but here's a better idea. The Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier EDV 300 ($20, street; widely available online) is a reusable little device that contains absorbent crystals. Just pack it in your bag or your gear cabinet and it absorbs humidity (more than half a pint of water) without any power source. When the indicator changes from blue to pink, plug the gadget into an outlet to dry out the crystals, and it will be ready for reuse.