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How to Photograph Female Silhouettes

Updated on September 18, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

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"A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single colour, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the whole is typically presented on a light background, usually white, or none at all. The silhouette differs from an outline which depicts the edge of an object in a linear form, while a silhouette appears as a solid shape. Silhouette images may be created in any visual artistic media, but the term normally describes pieces of cut paper, which were then stuck to a backing in a contrasting colour, and often framed.

Cutting portraits, generally in profile, from black card became popular in the mid-18th century, though the term “silhouette” was seldom used until the early decades of the 19th century, and the tradition has continued under this name into the 21st century." Wikipedia

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Photographers have been doing silhouettes for quite some time. There is something about a silhouette of a person or basically any subject that can be put to photography that calls attention to itself by its pure and unobstructed details or lack of them.

Women figures can often offer the most pleasant of silhouettes because it awakens the mind to thinking or maybe even fantasizing about how the owner of the silhouette really looks.

A photographic project based on only silhouettes has many marketable possibilities because many commercial entities can use them to advertise almost anything.

Your best bet is to think about the silhouettes that will compromise your set of photographs, who will be your subjects and set out to secure their services and second is to contemplate what commercial purpose they can be used for, if any.

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(CC BY 2.0 | Source

Although color is the main fabric of most photography silhouettes often lack any color. This does not mean that you have to take all your silhouette photographs in black and white or lacking any color whatsoever.

You can capture a silhouette yet have color in the scene by posing your subjects against any colored backdrop. Positioning the Sun right behind the subject is excellent for this and it ads its own yellowish cast to the entire scene.

If doing your photography in a studio the concept remains the same. Position your subject against a colored backdrop, illuminate this backdrop with its own light source and aim another light source at the subject while it is directly behind it. Use a fast shutter speed to eliminate details and that is basically it.

To add highlights to the outer rims of the silhouette shape place another light source closer to the body and behind it. A good technique is to use yellow or any other color gel filters on the light source.

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When selecting your poses pay attention to how the body contours show up .

You want to capture the contours because this is what a silhouette is but you also want to be careful not to make the shapes show anything that clearly shows too nudity.

Pay attention to the body's appendages like the arms, legs and head. If they are to close to other body parts they may "disappear" within the scene and the resulting images can turn out to look like a dark jumble with not recognizable shape or meaning.

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

So the basic steps to capture good silhouettes, especially of a woman, are to set up the model in front of a strong light source, set a fast shutter speed or preferably letting the camera settings be set for the light instead of the model.

If you want your silhouette to be one clear delineating shape have the model be either nude or wearing skin tight clothing.

Do not pose the model against a dark background since this will interfere with the overall "design" and shape. Either a bright colored or even white background works best.

An alternative to using models is to use cut outs and follow the same basics steps as if you were using a real person.

Other methods include placing a translucent surface like a canvas in front of the subjects, illuminating the surface from behind the canvas with you in front of the scene. In other words; light source, models, canvas, photographer.

For a slightly different look change the order of the models/translucent cloth.

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© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida That is the secret of silhouettes

    • profile image 4 years ago

      Sexy stuff alancaster - adult themes! Suggestiveness gets the imagination going and I suppose that's why silhouettes are interesting.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      alancaster149: thanks.......natty???...or naughty..........or "elegant" I never know with

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida Thanks

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello Luis, this is a theme with lots of potential mileage. A thought I had was of taking a model down to the seaside - rocks preferably - and have her wearing next to nothing under a light shift with the sun behind her back, wind blowing the shift and hair, sea spray crashing upward against rocks further away (across the sun). Taking the pictures from a few yards away would get the optimum effect.


    • profile image 4 years ago

      So that's how its done! Quite simple really except the lines need to be well defined - nothing hanging out. Good point. Cheers Luis.