Silhouette photography has a dramatic and mysterious atmosphere. You might have wondered, how other photographers take breathtaking silhouette photos.
In this article, I’ll let you in on the secret tips to creating spectacular silhouette photography. Once you understand the basic techniques, challenging lighting conditions become photographic opportunities.
What Is Silhouette Photography?
A silhouette is created by a subject photographed against a bright background. The hard backlighting makes the subject dark, concealing the details. The subject may be a person or an object, but we only see its shape.
Usually, we want to balance exposure during photography. We want to reach an evenly lit scene in our photographs.
But in silhouette pictures, we want a bright background to be properly exposed, while the subject goes dark and loses all or most of its details. (mention dynamic range here)
Silhouettes photography benefits from the cases when the background is much brighter than the subject. It takes advantage of what might otherwise be a challenging lighting condition.
Such photos take a more minimalistic approach, compared to the usually detailed images. They reduce the visible information, concentrating solely on outlines, contrast, patterns, and shapes.
How to Photograph a Silhouette
Shooting silhouette photography is easy once you know the basics. It’s mostly about where you stand in reference to a light source.
You’ll need a subject with a strong and identifiable shape. This subject will create your silhouette once you take the picture.
You also need a strong light source that is behind your subject, which creates a hard light. The sun as your light source is the easiest way to create silhouette photography.
To reach the desired results, make sure you are mindful of your position and camera settings when taking the photo. We will explain everything later in this article.
In a silhouette photo, I want certain parts of my image to be well-exposed and other parts to be under-exposed. If my camera exposes for the whole scene, it will try to even out exposure differences.
In spot metering mode, I’m telling my camera precisely what part of the scene I want well-exposed. In the case of silhouettes, I want the background to be well-exposed, making my subject dark.
Therefore, spot metering is the best for making silhouettes.
Choose The Right Settings
Choose a relatively narrow aperture (around f/11). Press the shutter button halfway down, focusing on the background. You might have to move your camera a bit with the shutter button still halfway pressed to recompose the picture. This way, you can place your subject where you want it in the frame.
At f/11, the entire scene will be sharp. Most of the details in the subject are lost in the silhouette, so focus doesn’t matter too much. It’s just the edges of your subject that need to be in focus.
If your subject isn’t dark enough, adjust your exposure compensation to darken the entire image a bit.
Finally, don’t use flash when creating silhouettes. Flash is all about bringing out the detail of your subject. For a silhouette, we want the subject to be under-exposed.
Find the Right Backlights
Because the light is behind the subject, the lighting method you need is called backlighting. When choosing the light conditions for a silhouette photo, you need to pick a light source that provides hard light.