You must have read and heard that lighting the subject correctly is one of the key elements of capturing a great photo. But sometimes doing just the opposite can get you wonderful results, and yes I am talking about silhouette photography using mobile phone camera.
Silhouette photos 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 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.
Clicking a silhouette might look like a hard task or something which only professionals can shoot, but let me tell you that if you follow these steps explained below you can easily click silhouette photos using a mobile phone camera. Ignore steps 5 and 6 if your mobile camera app does not support manual mode, and ignore step 4 if your mobile camera app does support manual mode.
1. There should be contrast in the scene
The contrast between light and shadow in the scene is the basic ingredient of silhouette photography. In simple language, you have to click a photo in which your subject (human, cycle, etc) appears dark and the background appears bright. Clicking a silhouette is not possible if you place a cycle in front of a dark background, the background has to be bright.
2. There should be separation from the subject
While clicking silhouettes everything in the foreground appears dark and only the background is completely exposed. Thus it is important to frame the scene in such a way that the shape of the subject appears perfectly, and no other element overlaps with the subject’s shape.
3. Sunrise or Sunset is the ideal time to click dramatic silhouette
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), which is fine if you like it that way.
NOTE: Sky is not the ONLY backdrop that you can use to click silhouette photos. You can even use a bright street light as a light source and place your subject in such manner that it creates silhouette effect.
4. Make sure your frame has more than 60-70% bright sky/backdrop (only if your mobile camera does not support manual mode)
If you are using a mobile phone which does not support Manual Mode (which allows you to adjust the metering modes, shutter speed, etc), then you need to ensure that majority of the frame is covered by the backdrop. This is to ensure that the camera takes the exposure reading from the sky and not the subject, as your camera uses evaluative metering by default which takes average of overall brightness in the frame.
So if the majority of the frame will be the bright sky, the camera will exposure as per the sky and the subject will appear as a silhouette. Similarly, if the frame is filled majorly with the subject, then the camera will expose as per the subject and thus will fail to capture silhouette effect.
5. Use Spot Metering mode and meter from the brightest part of the scene (if your mobile camera supports maual mode)
If you possess a mobile phone which features manual mode in the camera app, you can adjust the metering mode as per the need. While clicking silhouettes you will have to switch to Spot Metering mode to ensure that the camera picks up the exposure reading accurately from the point that you tap on.
Mobile phones such as Huawei P9 and Asus Zenfone 3 allows to set the exposure point and focus point separately. If your phone camera app allows you to do the same, then set the exposure point on the brightest part of the scene and the focus point on the subject. Now simply press the click button and you will have a photo with silhouette effect.
If your phone has a single point which takes both the exposure and focus reading, then you will have to manually set the shutter speed to get the silhouette effect. This is because if you tap on the brightest part of the scene for exposure reading, your camera will set the focus on the point as well. This will make the edges of your subject softer, blurry and out of focus. In this situation, follow the steps mentioned in the point below.
6. What setting to use when clicking silhouette in complete Manual Mode
As discussed above, if your camera does not allow to choose exposure point and focus point separately then refrain from setting the point on the brightest part of the scene. Follow the steps mentioned below to click photos with silhouette effect in manual mode.
- The first thing you have to do is switch to manual mode and use spot metering, now place the brightest part of the sky at the center of the frame (do not click right now).
- When you do this your camera app will display suggested shutter speed and ISO, this is what the camera is suggesting. Try and manually select 100 ISO, to minimise grains and noise. Note the shutter speed.
- Now frame your scene as you want to with your subject placed in it. As you do it you will see that the suggested shutter speed will change.
- Set the focus on the subject by taping on the screen, use a torch to focus if the subject has less light and the camera struggles to focus.
- Now manually select the shutter speed that you had noted while pointing the camera towards the sky, along with 100 ISO and click a photo.
- The photo that you will get will be a silhouette.