The second version is on top. . . and that is the one I prefer -- the one where the candles are clearly visible. Awesome, and thank you for trying it. I hope you are pleased as well.
I really like pushing a lighting effect, but when the effect is merely a shortcoming in the exposure of a photograph, something that most professional photographers would reject as over exposed and re-shoot, it refers a little too much to being a slave to the photo and the limitations therein.
I think your work sings, and the realism you employ seems to use photography where it serves your painting, and you go well beyond photography to very great results. Your paintings are very fine precisely because of the human touch both in the look and in the choices you make.
Thank you again for the compliment, dear friend.
"Not a bit is wasted and the best is yet to come. . ." -- remembered from a dream