Japanese Candles
Japanese Candle 和ロウソク  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1 sec, f/4, ISO 100 — image data
Japanese Candle
和ロウソク

I've long enjoyed the “So, What the Heck is That?” column each month in The Japan Times (Japan's main English-language daily), written by Alice Gordenker. As the titles of my blog posts that reference her articles indicate, the subject can become quite wacky:

Golden Poo: Feces of Financial Fortune
Snugglies for Trees, and More
The Wonder of Japan’s Open-Air Urinals
Kyoto’s Slightly Odd Tanukitanisan Fudouin Temple

Somewhere over the years we became acquainted by email, and somehow last month I ended up doing the photography for her next column, on the decidedly non-wacky (but unexpectedly interesting) subject of Japanese candles, scheduled to appear in the paper and online next week (Update: here it is). I've been wanting to write this up this since before my new-year trip, but I'm perpetually behind.

Same Shot in B&W paying attention to B&W because that's what the print version will use  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Same Shot in B&W
paying attention to B&W because that's what the print version will use

I'll leave the many interesting details to Alice's article, but in short, the interesting points of these candles are the shape and construction method, the wick, and the material: they're not made of bee's wax. Prior to her explanation, I hadn't even known that there was any other kind of wax, and now I know that there are many, including from nuts(!)

Update: Alice now has on her blog more details about the wax and how it's made, and ends with a video showing the intensively-manual way the candles are produced. Also see this video of someone with 50 years of experience making candles, and I've posted a short followup with a few more pictures.

Just Lit  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/13 sec, f/5.6, ISO 5600 — image data
Just Lit
Interesting Wick (crop from the photo above)  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Interesting Wick
(crop from the photo above)

I have some small and insufficient experience with the “product shot” type of photograph (most recently in “Prucia Plum Wine from France” and “Failing a New Portraiture Challenge: Reflective Pottery”) so I was excited to give these candles a try. Alice had interviewed a candle maker here in Kyoto, so she arranged for me to pick up some candles from him to photograph.

Due Diligence with a color chart  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/20 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600 — image data
Due Diligence
with a color chart
Unruly these candle's flames are bright, and at times can be a bit energetic  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1 sec, f/5.6, ISO 100 — image data
Unruly
these candle's flames are bright, and at times can be a bit energetic

The shots above are from my initial tests with the first candle (I was given a pair). To get the shape-enhancing highlights on the sides of the candle, I'd flanked it in solid white, via a dry-erase board and a large kitchen cutting board propped up by a plant pot:

First Setup  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 — 1/250 sec, f/1.4, ISO 1000 — image data
First Setup

After hearing back from Alice and her editor on the first set of shots, I gave it another try with the other candle. This time, rather than a dark background, I tried some very nice golden cloth-like Japanese rice paper that Stéphane Barbery had shown me while doing some portraiture practice at his house (here's one of the shots he took/processed of me).

I first set up some lighting tests with a western candle...

Quick Test #1  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1 sec, f/8, ISO 100 — image data
Quick Test #1

Then I brought in the half-used first candle for a closer-to-reality second test...

Quick Test #2 with the half-used first candle  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/13 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — image data
Quick Test #2
with the half-used first candle

Then finally I lit the fresh candle...

Initial Flame  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1 sec, f/8, ISO 100 — image data
Initial Flame

Alice needed detail more than a full-body shot, but I took a few anyway for this post. I extinguished the flame and recomposed some shots in the normal room lighting:

Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/5 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — image data
close crop of the prior shot  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
close crop of the prior shot

Then back to the candle-light shot of the candle...

Full-Body Shot  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/6 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — image data
Full-Body Shot
Just About the Limit before the wax spills over the edge  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D4 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/4 sec, f/2.5, ISO 100 — image data
Just About the Limit
before the wax spills over the edge
B&W version of the prior shot  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
B&W version of the prior shot

Except where noted, the illumination was all candle light, but in order to get even illumination, I used more than one candle. Here's the setup this time:

Setup For the Second Candle  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/  --  This photo is licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/ (non-commercial use is freely allowed if proper attribution is given, including a link back to this page on http://regex.info/ when used online)
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 29mm — 1/160 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1100 — image data
Setup For the Second Candle

I used white foam-core boards on both sides and above (far enough above to be safe!) to keep as much light as possible and to provide neutral reflections. And having learned a painful lesson in reflections in the prior month's “Failing a New Portraiture Challenge: Reflective Pottery”, I made sure to have a white board clipped to the tripod, just under the camera, to avoid unsightly reflections on the front of the candle. (A black board would have been better from the shape-enhancing point of view, but I didn't have one.)

I included two western candles with relatively small flames to add additional light where the main candle's light wouldn't suffice. I had to have them very close to make them bright enough, but far enough to the side to avoid casting shadows of the candle onto the gold background.

All in all it was a fun project, and I hope the future lets me team up with Alice again.

Continued here...


All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

That’s a really neat-looking candle, and I’m also intrigued by the usage of different materials. Like you, I wasn’t aware that there was so much possible variation. Interesting details on the setup, as well. The photos came out very nicely, so I’d say it worked. My initial reaction would have been to try and use a flash or two on low power, but the usage of additional candles was creative and likely provides a much nicer effect.

— comment by David K on January 10th, 2013 at 11:58pm JST (4 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Thanks for all the details on your product photo shoot. I think that your results are great. My personal favorite is the first image. Adding to David’s idea, I think that a 1/64 or 1/128 power strobe would help highlight the candle base (maybe with a gel to control the color). Regards, Tom in SF

— comment by Tom in SF on January 12th, 2013 at 4:16am JST (4 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

I love these candles and would like to know whether they can be purchased anywhere?

I see you’re based in the UK, so I did a search for “warosoku” (Japanese candle) on Amazon UK,
and there seem to be some. —Jeffrey

— comment by Julia on December 15th, 2014 at 8:16pm JST (3 years ago) comment permalink
Leave a comment...


All comments are invisible to others until Jeffrey approves them.

Please mention what part of the world you're writing from, if you don't mind. It's always interesting to see where people are visiting from.


You can use basic HTML; be sure to close tags properly.

Subscribe without commenting