How to Take Silhouette Pictures

Why are silhouettes special? The reason silhouettes are so engaging is that they are very open to interpretation. No matter who or what your subject might be, the viewer of the photo has the opportunity to imagine what is unfolding in the scene. Depending upon the perspective of your audience, you could end up with a wide range of opinions as to what is happening in your photo.

beach photography

Photo by Enrique Mendez.

Think of a silhouette of a man sitting alone on a park bench at sunset. Is he sad and lonely because his wife has passed? Perhaps he’s anxious about how much longer he will live and whether his loved ones will be cared for. Maybe he is relaxed and content, simply enjoying the day. Has he finally achieved an important goal in life?

There are so many scenes in life that can be perceived from various perspectives. Silhouette photography allows the imagination to shape the reality perceived by the viewer. In this way, silhouettes are truly unlike any other type of photography.

The key, then, is to focus on this aspect as you plan out the scene for your silhouette. Asking how you can create the scenario that is most engaging to the view is the key to success in this field. Follow your imagination where it leads and you will be amazed at the results!

Setting Up a Silhouette Photo

In order to describe the process of setting up a silhouette picture, let’s use the example of a silhouetted woman standing alone on a beach at sunset. Since sunlight will be our only source of light, we’ll need it to be coming from behind the subject. In this way, we will not be utilizing any reflectors or fill flash.

black and white landscape

Photo by Nick Kenrick.

With the sun just above the ocean horizon, point the camera at the sky just to the side of the sun. This will allow your camera to meter to the bright and produce exposure settings to the light behind your subject and thus underexpose your subject creating a silhouette.

Other Options for Silhouettes

It is also possible to render your silhouette with an interesting halo effect around your subject. If you desire this effect, move the subject directly in front of the setting sun. This will create a glow or halo which will further enhance your subject. With such an effect, you will obviously influence the viewer’s interpretation of your silhouette to be even more daring, innovative, and imaginative.

Remember, the more you create a silhouette that allows the viewer to dream bigger and better dreams, the more effective your photo will be.

sunset city

Photo by Jason Ross.

Leaving a lasting impression is the goal of taking silhouette photos, so allow yourself time to first imagine what your scene might be. Then, go out and capture that scene to the great satisfaction of yourself and your audience!

About the Author:
Mathew Rivers writes for a Nikon Camera site (cheapnikoncameras dot org). To see how others are improving their photography, take a look at a few tips for photography that may inspire you, or at least keep your creative juices flowing.

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One Comment

  1. Neil says:

    Thanks for the article, I’m quite new to photography so am soaking up knowledge like a sponge. If you are exposing for the light near the sun does that mean you have to hold exposure lock? Or will the camera automatically hold the setting?

    Many thanks


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