Are you looking to master the art of silhouette photography? When it comes to this style of photography, you need to get the camera settings and lighting right.
If you are completely new to this style of photography, you will be interested in knowing what silhouette photography is all about? Which are the best settings to capture amazing silhouette photos?
We will find the answers to all these questions through this guide. Both amateurs and professional photographers will find this silhouette photo guide useful.
What is Silhouette Photography?
Silhouette photography is all about capturing the shapes of the subjects in the frame without any details. These shapes will be filled with blacks. It is a completely different style of photography.
In all other photography genres, you want the sun or the light source to be in front of your subject. But, in the case of silhouette photography, you need the sun behind the subject.
In the case of silhouette photos, only the outline of your subject is important, not the details of your subject. It brings a completely different feel, mood, and looks to the photo, which many enjoy.
How to do Silhouette Photography?
To capture silhouettes, you must have a camera that supports exposure adjustments. You need to ensure that the background of the silhouetted subject is clutter-free. If there is clutter, then it will mix with the shape of the subject. So, you will end up losing the distinct shape of your silhouetted subject.
So, if your scene has a big rock in the background and the person in front, don’t make the person stand in front of this rock. You need to position the person so that there is some distance between the person and the rock. Thus, the outline of the person will be clear.
Lighting for silhouette pictures
You can create amazing silhouette pictures using natural light as well as artificial light.
In the case of light from the sun, you can’t get beautiful silhouettes at all times of the day.
The best time to photograph silhouettes is during the golden hour. You get the best possible light from the sun during this time of the day. You need to ensure that the sun is always behind the subject while capturing the photo.
The one-hour time before the sunset and the one-hour time just after the sunrise is the golden hour in photography. You can get beautiful shades of red, orange, pink, and yellow in your silhouettes during this time.
If you are going to use artificial lights to create silhouette images, you need to keep the artificial bright light source behind your subject. The bright light source can be a flash or a continuous light. If you are using a flash, then you can use color gels to get colored lights in the background. You can also use RGB lights to get the desired color in the background.
Camera & Lens for silhouettes
You can use any digital camera to capture silhouette photos. However, for best results, use a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
You can also use your smartphone camera. Nowadays, smartphone cameras come with the options to set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and exposure of the image. So, you can play with these settings to get your subject underexposed to get an amazing silhouette photo.
Any lens is good for silhouette photography. If you are shooting people, a wide-angle lens will help you get both foreground and background in focus. In the case of animals and bird silhouettes, you can shoot with a telephoto lens.
Camera Settings for Silhouette photography
In order to get the best silhouette image, you need to get the camera settings right. You can use the settings given below.
You can use auto, manual, or other semi-automatic modes in your camera.
If you are not familiar with the manual mode or any of the semi-automatic modes; then you can go with the auto mode.
You can do it in two ways using the auto mode.
If your camera supports manual focusing, then you can use the manual focus to pre-focus on the subject. After focusing, you need to meter for the background by pointing towards the background and pressing the shutter button halfway. Don’t remove your finger from the shutter button; get the desired composition in the viewfinder and press the shutter button fully to trigger the capture.
The second method makes use of a large f-number to increase the depth of field. You can shoot at an f-number between f11 to f22. Here, even if you focus on the background sky for exposure, both the silhouetted subject and the background will be in focus.
In auto mode, when the subject is completely dark, there is a chance that the inbuilt flash may pop up. So, you must ensure that the flash is set off in auto mode before triggering the image.
You can use any of the semi-automatic modes like the aperture priority or the shutter priority mode for the silhouette shot.
Here, you need to underexpose the photo. You can set the exposure to -2 or less, depending on the lighting. In both modes, you can shoot at 100 or 200 ISO.
If you are using aperture priority mode, then you need to select an f-number, and the camera will give the shutter speed value according to the set exposure.
In shutter priority mode, you can choose the shutter speed, and the camera will give you the f-number. You can choose this mode if there are moving elements in the scene.
I strongly recommend using the manual mode for silhouette pictures if you are comfortable with it. Here, you need to set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the desired exposure. So, it will give you full control over the various exposure parameters and helps you capture perfect silhouette photos.
You can shoot at a base ISO of 100 to 200 to eliminate the noise factor. Now, you need to play with the f-number and shutter speed combination so that the subject goes full black and the background is properly exposed. You can go for higher f-numbers to get a wide depth of field in the photo.
Exposure, Metering & White Balance
The trick to get the perfect silhouette image lies in the exposure of the photo. You need to get an underexposed subject along with a well-exposed background. So, you can underexpose by a couple of stops to get the desired result.
When you underexpose the picture, the subject will go dark black since the light source is behind the subject.
The best metering for silhouette photography is spot metering. In this metering, the camera will expose for the scene from a small portion. It will be either from the focus point region or from the centre portion of the photo. So, you need to ensure that this spot does not coincide with your subject. Otherwise, you will end up with a blown background, exposing for the subject.
So, you need to use the AE lock feature in your camera. Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras will have the AE lock button denoted by the asterisk (*) symbol. It is usually located near the right thumb side when you hold the camera. So, use it to get the exposure of the bright part of the sky in the background and then focus on your subject can capture the photo.
If your camera does not support spot metering, then you can also select evaluative metering. It is the commonly used metering technique by most photographers.
You can go for the auto white balance setting. Most digital cameras do a good job of selecting the right kelvin temperature according to the ambient lighting conditions in the auto mode.
If your camera supports RAW file format, then save the images in RAW format. It will help you to fine-tune the white balance later in the post-processing stage.
Which subjects are good for silhouettes?
The most common subject for silhouette photography is people. It is easy to make good silhouette photos of people.
When you photograph people, there are certain things that you need to take care of. The main thing is the pose. You can go for the front pose as well as the side pose. It applies to both males and females.
Whatever pose you try for silhouette photography, you must ensure that the hands and legs do not stick to the body. If so, then you will not get a nice recognizable shape.
If you are trying to photograph a silhouette of a group of people, then make sure that there is some gap between the people. If they stand together without leaving any gaps in between, then you will not get the desired distinct shape. You can even ask them to hold each other’s hands.
You can also try this photography style for birds and wild animals.
Perfect silhouettes Vs Partial silhouettes
There are two types of silhouettes. They are the perfect silhouettes and the partial silhouettes.
In the case of perfect silhouettes, only the shape of the subject will be recognizable. There won’t be any details on the subject. This type of picture is normally called silhouettes.
In the case of a partial silhouette, details on certain parts of the subject will be visible. Here, your subject will not be fully dark black.
You can photograph partial silhouettes when some amount of light falls on the subject. You can also use artificial lights like a flash to create partial silhouette photos.
10 Pro Tips for Silhouette Photos
1. Composition is the key
Composition is what makes or breaks a picture; the same is the case with silhouette photography. There are many photography composition rules out there. It includes the rule of thirds, golden ratio, rule of diagonals, etc. You can use any of these rules to compose your shot. It will help to improve the beauty of the silhouette pictures.
2. Equal importance to subject and background
When it comes to silhouette photos, as a photographer, you need to give equal importance to both the subject and the background. The outline of the subject is important in this photography style.
The colors in the background will make the subject pop out.
3. Make use of the negative space
When you photograph silhouette images during the golden hour, you can use the negative space technique. Here, most of the area in the frame will be filled with shades of red, orange, and yellow in the background. It will definitely make the silhouette photos look more attractive.
4. Retouch the image
You can capture the silhouette in RAW format and take it to any post-processing software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom for retouching.
Basic retouching like adjusting overexposure or underexposure, fine-tuning the white balance settings, reducing the noise, adjusting contrast, and increasing the sharpness will help make the silhouette truly beautiful. But, make sure not to overdo it.
5. Find interesting subjects for the silhouette photo
Sometimes, certain objects in the scene can make nice silhouette shapes. So, try to include such interesting elements in your frame.
For example, trees and rocks are two complementary elements used by many photographers while framing their silhouettes with people.
6. Try to photograph moving subjects
You can make the silhouette photos more interesting by shooting subjects in motion.
For example, it can be a bird in flight or an animal in action. If you are shooting people, then you can try to freeze the frame when they jump or walk.
Silhouette photography allows you to use higher shutter speeds like 1/2000 of a second. So, you can easily freeze the motion without any blur.
7. Try to include the sun as one of the subjects
The silhouette pictures can be made more appealing to the viewer if you include the sun also as an element.
You can even apply the forced perspective photography technique here to make the sun as important as your main object.
8. Try Worm’s Eye view photography
You can also try worm’s eye view for your silhouette if you can capture your subject from a low angle. This viewpoint works in most situations. It also gives you the opportunity to create a unique shot with a different perspective. You can easily execute a low angle shot if your camera’s display comes with a swivel screen.
9. Photograph clouds in the background
In many scenes, you will have the sky as the background. So, if there are interesting clouds in the bright sky, then try to include these clouds also. It will make the silhouette more interesting and visually pleasing.
10. Depth of field matters
Many photographers often miss the depth of field factor. For example, the silhouette photo can be made more interesting if the background is also sharp as the subject. So, try to use a large f-number to get a wide depth of field for your image.
A shallow depth of field is only useful if you capture a tight portrait silhouette photo using a telephoto lens.
Now, you know how to capture mind-blowing silhouette images. So, make use of these tips to take your silhouette images to the next level.
It is always good to retouch the captured images in any photo editing software. It will help you to perfect your images.
To capture beautiful silhouettes, you need to practice more and master the camera settings and controls. So, whenever you have lighting conditions favorable for silhouettes, give it a try.Back to Top