A very powerful, yet often neglected photo technique is silhouette photography.
Silhouette photos are visually powerful because they combine simplicity with a sense of mystery and drama. Not being able to see the details of the main subject in a photography composition causes the viewer’s mind to wander and create their own story within an image.
Like many photographers, you’ve probably seen great silhouette photography and often wondered “how did they do that?” Today, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about composing a photograph in this way.
Once you master this technique you’ll be sure to have a photo album full of intriguing photos that take people’s breathe away!
Choosing a Subject for Silhouette Photography
The best silhouette photos include a strong subject.
When choosing a subject make sure that it has a strong and recognizable shape. You want your viewers to instantly know what the subject is by its dark outline in the composition. If the shape is ambiguous or hard to make out you’ll lose your viewers interest.
If you’re going to include more than one subject in your silhouette photo make sure to keep them separated. If you have one subject in front of another then they will end up merging together and could confuse your viewer by not recognizing the shape in your composition.
For example, take the photo on the left below of the silhouette of the man and the cross. Notice how separation makes each object recognizable. Contrast that with the photo on the right. We can tell from the hair in the silhouette that its of a person but can’t really tell what they are doing. Their outline has merged with other objects and has made them unrecognizable. Keep this in mind when composing a photograph.
|Photos by len4ita and Mike Saechang|
Lighting Your Subject
To create a silhouette you need to have the main source of light shining on the back of your subject, not the front.
When positioned correctly the light will be shining toward your camera. Its usually best to have your subject stand directly in front of your light source, however having the light slightly above or to the side can also work.
|Photos by hessam and smik67|
Its also important to turn off your flash in silhouette photography. If your camera is in an automatic or semi-automatic mode it may try to compensate for the lack of lighting on the front of your subject by firing the flash.
In silhouette photography your goal is to have as little light on the front of your subject as possible – so turn the flash off.
Framing the Silhouette Composition
When framing your silhouette you can follow the standard photography rule of thirds or be creative. Its up to you! Just make sure you achieve a proper balance when composing your photograph.
Focusing is fairly easy to do.
Just set your focus so that its on your main subject. This will render an outline of a black subject that is nice and sharp. Focusing anywhere else could cause your subject to have a blurry outline and reduce the power of the composition.
|Photo by TexasEagle|
Achieving Proper Exposure in Silhouette Photography
Proper exposure is achieved in silhouette photography when the main subject is completely black and details can be seen within or around the light source.
If done correctly, a partial silhouette where some of the details can be seen in the subject can also be a nice shot. Sometimes a touch of light on them makes them slightly more three dimensional and real.
Here’s how you achieve proper exposure:
First, choose an aperture.
The aperture you choose is really dependent upon the perspective and depth of your shot. If the background is far away from the subject then you should choose a higher f/stop number (ex. f/22). This will maximize your depth of field and render a sharp foreground and background. If the background is relatively close to the subject a lower f/stop number (ex. f/8) can be chosen since depth of field is not much of an issue.
Second, use your camera’s light meter to determine shutter speed.
Point your camera’s light meter toward the light source in the background and then zoom in to fill the frame. Next, adjust your camera’s shutter speed so that it reads a proper exposure. When you zoom back out to adjust your framing and then take the shot, the background will be exposed properly to show detail while the subject will be completely (or almost) black.
|Photos by Calhoun Abbott and Striking Photography by Bob|
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on composing silhouette photography. Leave a comment below sharing your thoughts and attempts you’ve made at this type of photography!