How to Take Silhouette Photos - Easy Techniques and Tips
In silhouette photography, the aim is to take photos that render the subject as a dark, featureless silhouette against a bright background. Silhouette photography is all about shapely outlines. The detail is absent from the main subject because it has been deliberately kept too dark for any detail to register in the final photo. This focuses the viewer's gaze on the shape of the outline. The effect can be quite dramatic and atmospheric.
Taking silhouette photos is easy with just about any camera, and the following photos are simple examples of silhouetted subjects taken with basic camera equipment.
Basic technique of silhouette photography
The basic technique of taking successful silhouette photos is simple and straightforward. Have the source of light behind the subject. This puts your subject in dark shadow and takes advantage of your camera's inability to correctly expose for both the dark subject and the light background.
If you expose (meter) for the dark subject, the background will be completely over-exposed and the subject will have unwanted detail - you certainly don't want that effect, if you're going for silhouettes.
On the other hand, if you expose for the bright background, the subject will be completely dark and featureless, and it will contrast sharply with the bright background - which is exactly what you want.
High shutter speed - low camera shake
Another bonus is that the intense brightness of the light source, especially if it's the sun, allows you to use a very high shutter speed, which eliminates, or at least reduces significantly, unwanted hand-held camera shake. This in turn,enables extra sharp outline detail to be captured.
Any remaining subject detail in the image can easily be removed with photo editing software.
This is an example of nature setting up the shot. .This photo is a partial solar eclipse (90% of total). All I had to do as the photographer was be in the right place at the right time to press the shutter button. This shot wouldn't have been possible without filters and other equipment, if it hadn't been a cloudy day. The clouds acted as natural filters. Without them or suitable filters over the camera lens, the remaining 'slice' of sun would have been too strong and ruined the whole shot, and probably my eyes too.
Although the main subject is the eclipse, and the photo recorded the event successfully enough for basic (non-specialized) equipment, it's the clouds that steal the show visually. They look dramatic when backlit and also provide a natural frame around the subject.
Black and white
Black and white
As the subject in a silhoutte shot is rendered completely black, it should come as no surprise that black and white photography is well suited to this style, and often increases the dramatic impact of the scene.
In the photo here, the light source isn't direct sunlight, but reflected sunlight from the river. The choice of black and white and the relatively small size of the subject in the frame enhances the loneliness of the scene and the solitude of the fisherman.
Silhouetted castle ruins
This is a view of a silhouetted Scottish castle ruin. A subject like this is an obvious candidate for black and white treatment. It's always easier to associate black and white images with views that evoke scenes of centuries past.
Again, the clouds appear more dramatic than in reality due to them being backlit by the sun. They contribute to the overall brooding atmosphere that we expect from Scottish castle ruins. That's especially true of this one, Bothwell Castle, in central Scotland, a castle that has seen its fair share of murder and intrigue.
In this final example, the cloud is opaque enough to block out the sun completely and becomes a silhouetted subject itself, as well as a natural filter. The landscape below is also silhouetted and the outlines of the trees and pylon are contrasted sharply against the much brighter sky.