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All you wanted to know about silhouette photography, but were afraid to ask

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What do you know about silhouette photography? Silhouettes definitely add a sense of mystery and intrigue to any image, so pictures with silhouettes always look very eye-catching. Do you think silhouette photos are tricky and complex to capture? They are actually not!

The Pho.to team wants to share with you some useful tips for shooting silhouette photos. Let us start with the basic technical tips:

1. Get the right light!

Obviously, silhouette photos are all about back lighting. In other words, silhouette photography requires that back lighting is used. That is, the subject should always be between the photographer and the light source. How does that work? The basic idea is that the light coming from behind should be bright enough to make the silhouette completely black.

Silhouette of a woman

As an example, let’s describe how this shot of a silhouetted woman at sunset was created. The light from the setting sun is the main source of light here, and it comes from behind the subject. The flash is not used, so the figure of the girl shows up completely black in the image as a result.

Actually, most silhouette shots you are likely to see on the internet are taken around sunrise or sunset, so you might already guess that the best time of day for shooting silhouettes is around sunset. Naturally, this is because the backlight is best at this time of day. The low sun creates an ideal and often very colorful backlight. But silhouette photos can be much more than just a person standing in front of a pretty sunset! :) Silhouettes can be shot indoors: in this case you can use backlight from a window, etc:

girl silhouette

 

2. No flash!

It is normally advised to use the flash when taking shots into the sun: the flash gives sufficient light to add features to your subject. But this is not the right advice for shooting a silhouette photo! You need as little light on the front of your subject as possible, otherwise the silhouette will be ruined. So remember that the flash must be turned off.

 

3. Mind the shape!

For a silhouette to work, you need to choose a subject with distinct lines and shape. Here are some tips to help you make your silhouettes strong and easily readable:

  • If there is more than one person in the picture, make sure they have some space between them, so that the objects do not overlap, and the silhouette does not become one big black blob. For the same reason, if your composition includes a person and a tree, don’t let these two objects be too close to each other. Try to keep them separated. It is not a good idea to have the person stand in front of the tree or lean on it – in this case the two objects will merge into one shape.

collage1

  • It is also advisable to photograph silhouetted people as profiles rather than looking straight on. This will make them more recognizable as more of their features (nose, lips) will be outlined.

collage2

  •  If you want to silhouette a kissing couple, try to press the shutter button a moment before their lips meet. This will allow their profiles to be seen and recognizable.

collage3

So, when you are ready to shoot. The final how-to:

The basic strategy in shooting silhouettes is as follows: set your exposure on the brightest part of your image (the window/ the sky, etc.), and not on the subject of your image, then frame your picture and shoot! This tricks your camera into thinking that the background is the mid tone, so anything darker than the background will appear totally black.

As a bonus, we are going to give you some tips that increase your chances of achieving a killer silhouette shot:

  • If you use the setting sun as the backlight, let your model ‘interact’ with it. This is a great technique to make your silhouette photo tell a special story:

silhouette_sun

  • You don’t have to leave the silhouette completely black. Some detail of your subject can have some light in it. A touch of light on a silhouette will make it slightly more ‘real’, and the whole image will become even more ‘sensual':

silhouette_balloons

  • Add even more drama to your silhouette photo by including shadows or reflections:

silhouette_with_reflections

  • Silhouettes work great on wildlife too. While out photographing, scan the living nature for a good silhouette opportunity:

silhouettes_in_nature

  • Silhouettes must capture more emotion than you do in a usual portrait. Try to add more dynamics and emotion into your shot:

emotion

  • You’ll probably like to turn your photo into BW. Sometimes it works especially well for silhouette photos:

window_silhouette

Hope we gave you enough encouragement to go out and take some beautiful silhouette photos! Feel free to share your silhouette photos in comments.

 

 

1 Respond for All you wanted to know about silhouette photography, but were afraid to ask

  1. […] just choose a sunny day, wait until sunset and go to a photo shoot. Here is a detailed article on how to take decent silhouette photos with any camera (even with a built in camera of a […]

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