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How to Photograph Silhouettes - Tips for Photographing Silhouettes

A silhouette is an image of an object in which the main subject is reduced to just an outline. Little or no details of the subject are recorded. Silhouettes capture the viewer’s attention immediately by conveying a sense of mystery, emotion and drama; making the viewers mind work to fill the missing pieces of information with their own imagination.

Put simply a silhouette is a photograph of a dimly lit subject in front of a bright background. If you get it right silhouettes could make unique, striking images that stand out from the rest of your shots.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Vramak

Tips for photographing silhouettes

Select and Interesting Subject

The subject is the most important part of a silhouette photo. Choose your subject wisely; the subject along with the rest of the scene properly composed should narrate a story to the viewer. It is best to choose easily identifiable subjects. Always choose a distinct, strong subject in a silhouette photograph. A silhouetted object can only depend on its shape and not on colour, tones or texture to attract the viewer’s attention.

Make silhouetted subjects distinct and uncluttered

For example easily identifiable subjects like a tree, a windmill, a person etc make interesting subjects for a silhouette photograph. But a group of people is not desirable, if you have more than one person in your frame, or a person and a tree in your frame, place them so that they appear as individual shapes and not as one merged shape which will be confusing to the viewer.

When shooting silhouettes of people; try to shoot from an angle rather than shooting head on. So that the outline of the facial features of the person is recorded making the person identifiable.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Mikebaird

If you are silhouetting an object, look for an object that has protruding curves and angles that will stand out in your composition making an interesting silhouette.

Choose your Background

To shoot a silhouette the subject should be backlit. Select a light source, silhouette photographs are mostly shot during sunrise and sunsets. You could also use other light sources but make sure you have light coming from behind your subject. An uncluttered and bright background with little or no light falling on your subject is the most desirable setting for a silhouette photograph.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Mikebaird

Turn off Your Flash

Since you do not want any detail in your subject to be recorded, turn off your flash. There may be times when a little light falling on your subject could add to the silhouettes overall quality by adding to the mystery. This mainly works when your subject is beyond the effective range of your camera’s flash. Key is to experiment with and without flash in a scene.

Meter for Your Background

Place your subject in front of the light source; point the camera away from the subject to a bright part of the scene and press the shutter button half way to get your exposure settings. Remember it is always better to meter from a bright part of the scene rather than metering directly from the light source.

Once you have your metered values, set the camera to manual mode and set the values manually.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Kelsey

Select Manual Focus Mode

It is best to put your camera to manual focus mode to photograph silhouettes as it will allow you focus precisely on your subject. Since there is little or no light falling on the subject, the camera’s auto focus may not be able to focus on the subject and will focus somewhere in the background where there is enough light.

Aperture and Shutter speed

As you would like the whole of the scene to be in sharp focus, it is better to have aperture of more than f/11. Faster shutter speeds are more suited for photographing silhouettes. It is always a good strategy to bracket your shots. This way you will end up with total and partial silhouettes with varying degree of detail in your subject visible. Such small details on the subject, faintly visible could add to the mystery value of the image and also render the missing third dimension to the silhouette.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Phozographer

Move in Close to Your Subject

Move close to your silhouette subject so that it becomes easier for you to cover the light source with the subject preventing light from directly hitting your camera’s lens. Also you will have greater choices when it comes to composition if you move close to your subject.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Mikebaird

Shoot Silhouetted Shapes from Different Angles

Try shooting from different angles, shoot from eye level, ground level, try zooming in and zooming out on your subject; and also experiment by shooting from different angles. You will be surprised by the difference shooting from a different angle has on your results.

Keep The Horizon Low

Generally Silhouette photographs look good when the horizon is kept very low. The reason is that it helps to get an uncluttered background making the main subject a distinct shape.

Silhouette Photography Tips
Photo by Corey Leopold

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