We all read and talk about lighting the subject being one of the key elements of a great photo, be it a portrait or an object. But sometimes doing just the opposite can get your wonderful photos, yes we are talking silhouette photography.
Silhouettes have the visual powers that can easily captivate the viewers attention using the play of the contrast between light and shadow. You can easily make your photos stand out from the rest and make them come across as moody, dramatic and mysterious. Playing with the light and shadow, you have the power to capture and tell an interesting story to the viewers.
It might look to you that clicking a silhouette is a hard task, but let me tell you that if you follow these steps explained below you would easily master the art of silhouette photography.
The first step while preparing yourself for silhouette photography is to scout your location in order to get the desired background. The best backdrop for a silhouette is the sky, either at sunrise or at sunset. As these events last for a short span of time, it is always better to visit and scout the location a day in advance. If you run short of time, you can always visit the location the same day an hour or two before and visualize the frame you would want to click.
Once you have finalized the location, the next step is to choose your foreground element. It could be a building, monument, tree or a human element.
A Silhouette is a solid shape and outline of a subject (building, person or an object) visible against a brightly lit background. In this type of photography, the foreground is completely dark and the background is brighter to give the silhouette effect. Which brings us to the conclusion that in silhouette photography, contrast between the dark foreground and the bright background plays a major role.
The basic rule to be followed while clicking a silhouette is to make sure that your subject (foreground) is well separated and stands out from the backdrop. This is to make sure that your subject is properly visible and shape of the subject is clearly defined, as there is no light on the subject and only the shape can convey the look of it.
If there are two or more subjects in your silhouette, make sure they are properly separated from each other and do not get overlapped with each other. For example, if you are planning to shoot a couple, make sure you make them pose in such a way that there is some space left between both of them in order to convey the feeling and the mood of the photo.
Quick Tip: Try and position your subject/s in such a way that the viewers can easily get the story that you want to convey. While clicking a silhouette of a person, make sure you position him/her in such a way that the shape of the features such as nose, lips and ears are visible in your silhouette. (This are not a hard and fast rule, just a suggestion from my side).
Time of the day
The sky during the sunrise or sunset is the best backdrop for a silhouette. During this time of the day the sun plays a major role in defining the mood and bringing out the colors in your photo. Whereas, if you click a silhouette during the day, you will get a single tone colored backdrop (sky).
your digital camera works in such a way that it tries to make sure that the subject in your frame is well exposed. As it is a machine and not a human, your camera blindly follows the 18% grey rule and tries to expose the frame so that the photo is properly exposed.
Whereas, for a silhouette you need the foreground to be underexposed and the foreground to be properly exposed. In order to achieve this result, you need to take the exposure reading of the background, instead of the foreground. Simply point your camera to the brightest part of the background/sky and then press the shutter release button half way, make sure you do not release the button. Once you have locked the exposure, move your camera back to the position which gives you the desired frame and press the shutter release button to click the photo.
Now you must be wondering that when you exposed your camera pointing towards the background, it would have also set the focus to that point, resulting your subject to be out of focus. Well, there are two ways to make sure that your foreground stays in focus.
First trick is that you set your lens to manual focus mode and focus on the foreground subject. If you face problem while focusing in low light conditions, use a torch or your mobile flash to light your subject and then set the focus.
The second trick is that you set the aperture value on your camera to maximum number. The larger the value of the aperture on your camera, the smaller would be the aperture opening and the wider the depth of field. Which means that you are more likely to get both the foreground and the background in focus.
Camera settings (shutter, aperture, ISO)
As mentioned above, try and use a higher value aperture number on your camera to make sure everything is in focus.
Talking about the shutter speed, it may depend on how you are using the foreground in the frame. If the foreground subject is stationary, a shutter speed of 1/125 seconds is good enough. If you are making the subject jump or perform some kind of action, make sure the shutter speed is set to at least 1/500 seconds in order to freeze the moment.
The ISO should be set to the minimum number, in order to avoid grains. You might have to compromise on the ISO sensitivity in a situation where you are using small aperture (larger number) and fast shutter speed, which is fine as you would not have any other option.
So now you have all the tips and suggestion needed to click silhouettes like a pro. Do share your silhouette photos with us in the comments below.