Stunning Silhouette Photos

A popular and pleasing photograph that we’ve all seen is the perfectly exposed sky accented with a dark silhouette. This type of photograph may look challenging to pull off, but it doesn’t require much more than an appropriate light source and thoughtful placement of the subject. Follow these steps to create amazing silhouette photos.

Choose Your Camera Settings

For silhouettes, the exposure metering system you use isn’t too important as long as you meter for a piece of the sky that doesn’t include the sun. When it comes to exposure, generally ignore everything else in the image, because you want the sky to be well-exposed but your subject to remain in darkness. Err on the side of slightly underexposing the sky in order to get the most out of its color.

Silhouette Photos

young photographer by Mohamed Muha

Point your camera at the sky to take an exposure reading that will leave your subject in shadows.

Place Your Subject

Put your subject between the light source and the camera. You don’t want light hitting the front of your subject if you’re aiming for a true silhouette photo. If you’re using the sun as your light source, you need to wait for a time of day when it’s low on the horizon. Some photographers like to place their subjects directly in front of a light source, whether it be a setting sun or a strobe. When the subject blocks most of the light, a rim of light creates a thin halo around the subject.

Silhouette Photos

dolphin’s dance by Jesslee Cuizon

You can take a silhouette photo from all sorts of unconventional locations and angles as long as the subject is positioned between the light source and the camera.

Use a Recognizable Subject

Good silhouette photos depend on distinct shapes and forms. With inanimate objects, you can choose an angle that emphasizes shape, but the task is a little more difficult with people and animals. Without a little instruction, most people will stand in a natural way that is not conducive to an identifiable silhouette. When photographing people, separate their limbs from their bodies and ask them to turn their faces to the side so you can see their noses and mouths. If you’re shooting more than one person, make sure they do not overlap in the frame. A crowd of people standing together might look like an indecipherable blob of darkness in a silhouette image.

Silhouette Photos

13/365 by phozographer

Asking your subject to move her feet apart and pull her arms away from her body results in a silhouette with a distinctly human form.

Shoot From a Low Angle

The photographer’s shooting angle is crucial in making a successful silhouette photo. Removing the horizon from the frame emphasizes the subject and maximizes the sky or other light source. To include more sky and less horizon in the frame, get as low as possible to the ground. This might mean sitting or lying down in some cases. You can also look for raised areas, like rocks, tables, or hills and ask your subjects to stand on them. Or, you can tell your subject to jump in the air.

Silhouette Photos

World’s Favorite Sport by Rama V

The photographer separated the subject from the skyline by shooting from a low angle.

Utilize Post Processing

To emphasize the silhouette look, use editing software to adjust dark and light areas of your image.s Increase the contrast of silhouette photos by adjusting your lights and darks in post processing. Color balance can also warm or cool the temperature and change the mood of the image. However, silhouette photos taken under proper conditions and with careful attention to exposure generally do not need a lot of editing.

Silhouette Photos

Horse rider by Tomi Knuutila

Adjusting black levels in post-processing increases contrast and deepens the warm colors in the sky.

Taking great silhouette photos isn’t as complicated as it looks. All you need is a light source coming from a fairly low angle, a subject positioned thoughtfully, and proper exposure. Next time you’re out shooting a gorgeous sunset, find an interesting form to use as a subject and give silhouette photography a try.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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