How To Photograph A Silhouette

river silhouette

I love silhouette photos. There is something mesmerizing about the story they hold without showing your subject’s detail. So much is left to the imagination for us to fill in our own interpretations.

How do you capture a silhouette?

Begin with Backlight

Bright light behind your subject is the easiest way to create a silhouette. A few places you can find it:

  1. In a open door
  2. In front of a window
  3. In front of the sun, especially when it is low in the sky, just above the horizon

Once you find the light, let your subject go. Let them play. Let them pose. Or simply find a scene with interesting objects.

Look for Strong Lines & Clean Backgrounds

You can create a stronger image by having less in the photo to compete with your subject. Like most photography, a clear story is easier to convey with minimal distractions in the image and good use of negative space.

Place your strongest lines at the third points in your photos. Avoid cutting through the center of your image with the horizon. The more recognizable your shapes, the more interest you will create in your photo.

CaptureYour365 contributor Jeannie Thiessen created a stunning view of the fair.

Expose For The Light Around Your Subject

Silhouettes are definitely a place where it benefits you to shoot in manual mode although you can be successful with other modes.

  1. Choose center-weighted or spot metering.
  2. Point your camera at the area of sky or light beside your subject.
  3. Adjust your light meter for a correct exposure. You have a lot of flexibility with your camera settings.  Start with an aperture around f/8.  To get a sharp image, choose a shutter speed that you can easily hand hold. Choose the lowest ISO you can get away with for your shutter speed.
  4. Check your LCD and histogram. Adjust your exposure and shoot again if needed.
CaptureYour365 contributer Deirdre Harger used the poor lighting inside the barn to create a dramatic silhouette of her daughter.

Shoot A Few

Try a few different angles and a few different settings.

Bracketing can be helpful in this situation to get a few options to work with. You’ll find the setting either in your camera menus or as a button on the back of your camera. Choose this option to take a a series of photos one stop over and one stop under what you’ve metered for.

Do A Little Post Processing

Once you move the photo into your processing software adjust the levels, shadows and highlights until you get the look you are hoping for. Don’t be afraid to up your blacks just a bit to get a darker silhouette.

Point & Shoot Silhouettes

Want to try it with your point and shoot? Find your backlit subject, turn your flash off, and aim your camera at the sky with your subject in the frame. Shoot. If you point your camera at your subject, the camera will try to expose for your subject losing the silhouette.

Have Fun

Give it a try. Play around. See what you can create. You can see even more silhouette inspiration on my Silhouette Pinterest Board.

What do you love about silhouettes? Questions about the technique? I’m here to help!

Katrina is a team member here at The Daily Digi, be sure to also check out Katrina’s CaptureYour365 for more great photography tips!