Simple Secrets for Photographing Silhouettes

Capturing great silhouettes isn’t particularly difficult, but if you want to get the best shots possible there are a few tips and tricks to learn. In the video below, photographer Doug McKinlay reveals a few simple secrets that can help you get a great silhouette shot just about every time:

Silhouette photography is really just the art of backlighting. Find a great subject with amazing light behind it, and the rest is pretty simple. But there are a few tips that can help get the best shots. Here are McKinlay’s suggestions.

The Subject

“Personally, I find that subjects that are big and bold make the best silhouettes.”

Subjects that do best as silhouettes are ones that would also work as a “cut out,” where the shape can function as a graphic representation of the subject itself. The most moving silhouettes form shapes that are clearly evocative of whatever they’re representing—that’s why big, bold shapes work really well. It’s also why a profile shot tends to work best with people; it usually gives the viewer far more information than a mere back or front shot.

Profiles are best for silhouettes of people

The Lighting

As with many outdoor shots, the ideal lighting for silhouettes is the golden hour. The golden hour produces more sky color and brilliance than just about any other natural light. Be prepared, however, to take lots of shots during this time. The light changes quickly and if you’re not quick you can lose some amazing shots.

For the most dramatic silhouettes, McKinlay suggests placing the light directly behind the subject.

Silhouette of a castle

The Settings

For best results, McKinlay suggests these settings:

  • Metering. Spot or center-weighted. If the sun is in the photo, try metering manually with the sun to one side of the focus area. This will ensure that the sun doesn’t get blown out.
  • Aperture. f/8-11 for the ideal depth of field
  • ISO. Start at 200 and then go up from there if needed.

Hopefully these simple tips will take your silhouette photography to the next level—or at the very least help you understand why what you’re doing is working or not working.

Have any other tips for silhouette shots? Let us know!

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