Library of Inspiration

Giving silhouette photography a shot

Silhouette photography is an art form unto itself. The contrast between dark and light implies much and gives away little, beckoning those who view the photographs to finish the picture with their mind. It may look straightforward, but there’s more to photographing silhouettes than meets the eye. 

Here are some tips and tricks to help you master shooting silhouettes.

What is it?

A silhouette is an outline of an object that appears dark against a light background. The detail of the subject is lost completely, leaving a black shape that contrasts with what lies behind. When well-executed, this type of photography can convey mystery, drama and every emotion in between.

Lighting

Shooting around sunrise and sunset is a running theme throughout these Learn & Explore articles, and silhouette photography is no different. Optimum conditions for capturing a clean image is when the sun is hanging low in the sky, because the contrast between your subject and the sky is at its most distinct.  While shooting your subject directly in front of the sun is a popular technique, don’t feel obliged to frame that way, as a bright sky will do the trick, sun or no sun.

Subject Matter

A distinctive outline is essential to get the silhouette effect you should be seeking. As defining details like colour, pattern and texture will be completely lost, the shape of the subject you choose should be unmistakable.

Also, if you hope to shoot multiple objects, make sure there is space between them, otherwise their silhouettes will combine for something undefinable.

Abandon Automode

Modern cameras are very smart, and auto mode will attempt to make the most of low-light conditions, but to achieve the desired effect you’ll want to take the reins when it comes to aperture and shutter speed.

A large depth of field is important, so your aperture could be set at f/8 or above. The whole goal of silhouette photography is underexposing your subject, so it’s advisable to increase your shutter speed with 1/125 as a minimum starting point. What’s more, a full auto mode will fire the flash which will stop your silhouette attempt in its tracks.

Post-perfection

If your silhouettes don’t turn out as well as you’d hoped, don’t be discouraged. You can dial up the contrast, increase the saturation and slightly boost the blacks to really strengthen the silhouette effect. ‘Less is more’ is a good rule of thumb when it comes to retouching in general, as you want your photos to still retain a natural, authentic look and feel.

As with every style we cover in these Learn and Explore articles, these are merely suggestions, and we recommend getting out and experimenting with different settings and techniques that work best for you. So, grab your camera and start shooting!