How to Photograph a Simple Silhouette

Silhouettes have been in vogue since before the advent of photography. Before the 1830s and the appearance of the first cameras, cutting out the likeness of person on a dark card was one of the easiest and least expensive ways of capturing a person’s likeness.

Today, there’s not much of a demand for the traditional paper portraits of old. However, many artists and photographers pay homage to this technique when they capture their subjects in silhouette. Jay P. Morgan provides his insight when it comes to creating the graphic, gorgeous effect using nothing more than available light and the correct camera settings:

The hallmark of a silhouette is bright background with little to no light hitting foreground elements. Whether you’re photographing skylines, still objects, people, or landscapes, a well done silhouette is almost always appropriate. As long as a subject has distinct, defined shape, it will likely lend itself well to being portrayed in profile.

Different subjects in silhouette

Perhaps the most simple way of creating the silhouette effect is to bring your subject into the shade. The shade will naturally and immediately shroud whatever or whoever you’re photographing in darkness. From there, you can just allow your background to blow out and drown out any foreground elements or details in your composition.

Lincoln portrait in shade

Bringing your subject into the shade isn’t always a viable option. Luckily, this doesn’t prevent you from being able to create a stunning silhouette. Using a spot meter or a camera’s built in spot mode can be incredibly helpful in creating the results you’re after. In spot mode, whatever happens to fall in the viewfinder’s central bracket will be automatically exposed. So, by simply arranging the composition so that the background falls within the central bracket, you’ll instantly produce perfect silhouettes.

romantic couple silhouette

The next time you’re looking to cultivate a dramatic, romantic, or visually distinct feel on your next photo shoot, consider using silhouettes to set the mood! Whether it requires finding a little shade or adjusting the settings of your camera, this crowd pleaser is easy to improvise and sure to surprise.

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