Photographing Silhouettes


When we take photos of subjects, we usually make sure the viewer can see them in all their glory, from their colors to their features. Yet, we can also shoot them as silhouettes, which can provide drama and mood to the image.

The following are a few helpful hints to getting a great silhouette shot:

Show distinctive shapes – When an object becomes a silhouette, it looks black and therefore loses much detail except for its shape and the textures at its edges. You will be presenting your three dimensional subject in a two dimensional manner so they must be distinct. Subjects with strong recognizable shapes make great silhouettes since these shapes are what will make the shot work.

Choose the subject’s angle – the angle of your subject should also be carefully considered because certain angles will not look as attractive as others. If your subject is a person, for example, having them in profile will show off the shape of the face and the details at the edges such as eyelashes or a beard. If they face the camera straight on, we will instead see the shape of the face and the outline of the hair.

Keep the shapes separate – Don’t place your subjects in front of each other. If your subjects overlap, they can appear as one unrecognizable or unappealing shape. Give them some space by keeping them separate during setup. This will also make the image look less cluttered and chaotic. 

Set exposure based on the light, not the subject – adjust your camera settings to give proper exposure to the lighted areas rather than the subject. This will underexpose the subject and make it even darker.

Use backlighting – to create a silhouette, the light should be behind the subject. This illuminates the area around the subject while keeping the front of the subject in darkness. Sunlight can be a fantastic light source because it can backlight subjects or scenes in the early morning or late afternoon when it is at the horizon. A lot of sunrise/sunset photographs depict silhouettes of people, architecture, trees, or animals in the foreground. For indoor shots, an ordinary lamp with a bright bulb is sufficient to turn subjects to silhouettes.

Experiment – Play around with macro setting, go crazy with your choice of subject, and fiddle with how they will be positioned in the composition. Transparent objects can be very fascinating because you can see the shapes of their insides. Capture mood by using bold colors or dramatic lighting in the background, or by how the subject interacts with its surroundings.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 6th, 2010 at 7:47 am and is filed under Articles, Photography Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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