Capturing a child blowing out the candles on a birthday cake is an iconic picture every parent hopes to master, but it can be a tricky shot to achieve. There are many factors stacked against a parent trying to capture this magical moment. First, the lights are typically turned off in the room with the birthday cake which in turn causes camera sensors to struggle with focus. Secondly, the amount of time that a child is near the cake and ready to blow out the candles only lasts a split-second. Finally, most parents want to participate in the celebration itself, making it hard to concentrate on the technical side of photography while enjoying the moment with their child.
Here are some strategies that may help:
- Get your exposure and focus set in advance. Take a moment to turn the lights off and figure out your settings before you bring in the cake. Have your camera set to “continuous” so that you can take several shots in rapid succession.
- Do not use a flash. The light from a flash will overpower the warm, sentimental glow from the candles. If necessary, increase your ISO instead.
- Choose the best location to shoot from and ask another adult to bring in the cake. Sing “Happy Birthday” at the top of your lungs while getting ready to shoot. As soon as the song is over, fire away!
Even with all these tricks, you can usually improve your picture a bit further in post-processing.
For this image, the goal during post processing was to create more separation between the boy in the foreground and his friends behind him. Though subtle, reducing the warmth of the background while making it blurrier gives the main subject more prominence.
Exposure: Nikon D4s, 35mm 2.0, 1/200 sec, ISO 3200, f/2.2
Software Used: Photoshop CC
Actions/Presets Used: Inspire Photoshop Actions
- Clone out window light from background
Inspire Photoshop Actions:
- White Balance Sliders
Added Cyan 30%
Added Magenta 19%
- Night Light 30%
- Quick Flash 8%
- Custom DOF at 3px and masked off the boy in the foreground blowing out the candles
Heidi Peters is a portrait and commercial photographer in Chicago. She also runs a yearlong project with Amy Tripple called Shoot Along to help parents take better pictures of their own children. Visit the Shoot Along website or facebook page to join!