How to Take a Silhouette Portrait Photograph

Be creative by taking silhouette portrait photographs
Be creative by taking silhouette portrait photographs | Source

Traditional ways of portrait photography can sometimes be boring. You can be creative by taking silhouette portrait photograph. Lighting plays a vital role in silhouette portrait photography. Lighting frames the body contour, sets the mood of image composition, and hooks the viewer’s attention to the subject and the object in the picture.

Positioning the subject (model) is very important in silhouette photography.
Positioning the subject (model) is very important in silhouette photography. | Source

Things You Need While Taking a Silhouette Portrait Photograph

Camera

You must have a good camera to take good pictures. Having said this, the best equipment is the one that you have. If you are passionate about photography, you don’t need a SLR or DSLR, you can create great shots from point and shoot camera, even mobile phones. Unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t carry your equipments every time, however, your mobile phone is always with you. You can take great silhouette portrait photographs from your mobile phones. Mobile photography is becoming very popular these days, handsets come with bigger megapixel camera.

A model

Without a model (subject), you cannot do portrait photography. Posing is important, however, positioning the model is more important. You, the photographer, must face the light source, while bright light must be behind your model.

A source of bright light

Positioning the subject (model) is very important in silhouette photography. Silhouette is created when the bright source of light is behind the subject. If you choose outdoor location, morning and late afternoon sunlight create great silhouette photographs. If you are shooting indoor, you must face to the light source such as lamps, open window, doors etc. and your subject must have his/her back to the light source.

Profile positioning (side view) will create better silhouettes than frontal pose.
Profile positioning (side view) will create better silhouettes than frontal pose. | Source

Try these settings

Mode: Aperture Priority (Av)

ISO: 400 (Or more)

White Balance: Custom

Aperture: Between f/6 to f/16

Exposure: -2/-3

Drive Mode: Single shot

Focal length: 35mm to 80mm

For white balance setup, use white paper as reference.

In silhouette photography, if you have more than two subjects, don’t make them stand too close.
In silhouette photography, if you have more than two subjects, don’t make them stand too close. | Source

How to Take a Silhouette Portrait Photograph

Camera Setting

Manual

Camera setting is very important to take asilhouette portrait photograph. Some of the cameras such as Nikon DSLR come up with Silhouette Mode. However, you can manually set your camera. The most important things to look while setting your camera manually are shutter speed and aperture.

Auto

Auto mode in a digital camera makes easier to take a picture. When your camera is in auto mode, it automatically determines how to expose your picture, i.e. it brightens up the subject, and darkens the object (background). To take a silhouette, you have to underexpose your subject.

If you have set your camera in auto mode, focus your camera at the bright part of the background and press the shutter halfway. Now, focus on the subject in lowlight, still pressing the shutter halfway, and then click. Don’t set your camera in auto flash mode if you want to take silhouette.

Model positioning

Interesting body pose creates beautiful photographs. Your silhouette photographs will look dull, if you don’t capture body contour.

Framing

The golden rule of third also applies to silhouette portrait photography. Don’t position your subject in the center. Leave enough space on one side of the frame.

Never use flash

Silhouette is created when the background (object) is bright and the subject (foreground) is dark. When you use flash, it is brightens your subject.

While taking a silhouette photographs, you have to face the light source, while bright light must be behind your subject.
While taking a silhouette photographs, you have to face the light source, while bright light must be behind your subject. | Source

What do you think about silhouette photography?

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10 Ways to Take a Silhouette Photograph

  • Try to capture your subject in exposed background, where objects are visible. Your subject must be underexposed.
  • Compose your picture with light on one side and shadow on the other side. Avoid light coming from behind the camera.
  • Background must be brighter than foreground. Your model will generate wonderful silhouettes when there is backlight.
  • Profile positioning (side view) will create better silhouettes than frontal pose. If you want to shoot frontal pose, you can ask your model to raise hands, angle in certain direction, or hold props.
  • Capturing body shape is important, models wearing fitting clothes will generate interesting silhouette. Make your model wear dark clothes rather than bright ones.


To take great silhouette pictures, light source must be behind the subject.
To take great silhouette pictures, light source must be behind the subject. | Source
  • Color, texture and tone of the subject are not visible in a silhouette photograph. You can compensate these elements by choosing interesting background and asking the subject to create interesting body posture.
  • If you are using artificial lighting, don’t brighten your subject, rather use the light to brighten the background. Light source must be behind the subject.
  • Anti-light creates good silhouette. However, try to avoid direct light on the lens, especially when you are shooting in daylight.
  • If you have more than two subjects, don’t make them stand too close. If your subject is using props, make him/her hold it away from the body.
  • Don’t let your subject take the entire frame. Capture the subject as well as the surrounding. Be ready to experiment with different body posture. You can take a complete silhouette or a partial silhouette.

Don’t let your subject take the entire frame. Best silhouette is created when you capture the subject as well as the surrounding.
Don’t let your subject take the entire frame. Best silhouette is created when you capture the subject as well as the surrounding. | Source

© 2013 Vinaya Ghimire

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Comments 12 comments

kerlund74 profile image

kerlund74 2 years ago from Sweden

Great hub, this information sure helps to improve photography!


Sannel 3 years ago

This is yet another excellent and very useful hub, my friend. You're a very talented photographer and I always enjoy looking at your wonderful images. I truly enjoyed reading this and your great ideas will be to big help to me.

Thank you!

Take care,

Sannel


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Lovely Vinaya!!


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal Author

@suzettenaples, when composed nicely, silhouette pictures convey better emotions than other pictures. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

@Frank, I lean from you you learn from me.This is how our writing life goes on.

@Billy, thanks for appreciating my works.

@always exploring, thanks for always being around. You are one of my best support system.

@Faith, thanks for always coming up with appreciative feedback.

@Mhatter, cheers

@ExpectGreat, I sometime set white balance to auto, sometime I set it manually to create different effect.

@agusfanani, photography is my hobby. I'm glad that we share the same passion. Thanks for your comment.


agusfanani profile image

agusfanani 3 years ago from Indonesia

I love photography and you've given very useful tips how to produce Silhouette photographs especially for the setting in Aperture priority to get quality silhouette results . Thank you for sharing.


ExpectGreatThings profile image

ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

Very helpful! And you are really talented! Do you always use custom white balance? I've never played around with that feature.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 3 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you again for this.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Very interesting hub here. Thank you for sharing your great knowledge in all of these areas of photography. Your photographs are always amazing and beautiful. I have always loved silhouette photography and wondered just how they did it, and now I know!

Great work. Voted up ++++ and sharing

God bless, Faith Reaper


always exploring profile image

always exploring 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

You are so talented, i envy your knowledge. I think my favorite is the silhouette. Thank's for the info.........


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great work, Vinaya. You have an obvious talent with the camera. Thanks for the tips.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

Vin these last few posts are helpful and amazingly created so someone like me can follow it easily.. I like easy..:) thank you bro :)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 3 years ago from Taos, NM

Excellent hub! I so enjoyed reading this and your photos are wonderful. Silhouette pictures are very creative and lovely when you want to convey a certain mood with your photo. Thank you for your tutorial on how to accomplish this.

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