How To Make A Silhouette Photo

Silhouettes photo are a great way to convey drama, mystery, emotion, and mood to your photo viewers and often stand out on an album because of a combination of simplicity but also the story they convey. I like silhouettes because they don’t give a clear picture of everything but leave a portion of the image until the imagination of the viewer wonders.

Usually photographers talk about the importance of using a flash when shooting a subject with their back to the sun to provide enough light to the subject. But there are chances to making a subject separate from their outline with a bright background, so that it can be the most effective or when in other words a silhouette is something interesting to apply.

The basic strategy that you need to apply in making a silhouette photo is to place your subject in front of several light sources and then adjust the exposure based on the brightest part (background) and let the subject receive a dark consequence (underexposure).

Photo Credit © Saravut Whanset

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There are many technical descriptions of how to take the great silhouette shots you might want to look for, but let me try to run a few basic steps that should give you the results you want. The point I’m trying to do is make your camera think of the brightest part of the scene you’re most interested in.

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Choose A Strong Subject

Almost all objects can be made into silhouettes, but some are better than others. Choose a subject with a strong and recognizable shape. Make it quite interesting and can hold the interest of viewers who see your picture. Silhouettes cannot draw the subject’s color, texture and tone to make it attractive. So for the subject you only need to concentrate on the shape. Do not choose the shape of the subject that in the silhouette looks vague, as it is not recognized where the shape of the head, hands, feet, etc.

Turn off the camera flash

Make sure your camera is not in Auto or Program mode, which in that mode will turn on flash automatically when the camera detects a lack of light. As I said before, leave the subject consequently dark / less light. Because in this trick our concentration on the subject is no longer in the lighting but in the shape of the subject as attractive as possible in the silhouette image. If indeed you are not good at operating a camera other than auto mode, then the solution will be explained below.

Photo Credit © Wilfredo Lumagbas Jr.

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Adjust The Light Correctly

So, instead of lighting up the front of your subject, inside the silhouette you need to make sure that there is more light shining in the background than the foreground in your scene. The perfect lighting for this is to place your subject in front of the sunset (sunset) or sunrise (sunrise). But actually lighting from other sources can also do this trick. The point is for this section, make sure you have set good lighting for the background and again don’t worry about lighting the subject.

Framing The Scene

This is like our usual shooting habit, which is to frame the scene as well as possible by paying attention to a number of rules, such as adjusting the balance (this is the main), then placing the subject on the rule of third and some shooting techniques that you master. Suggestion, frame your subject in front of a nice plain with a bright background. Usually the best background is the sky without bright clouds by positioning the sun as creatively as possible.

Create A Different And Neat Silhouette Shape

If there is more than one form or subject in the scene you are trying to silhouette, try to separate it. For example, if you make a silhouette of a tree and someone standing in front of it or even leaning on the tree, separate the two subjects, because the tree and the person will be joined in a silhouette, so that your audience will be confused about the shape.

Photo Credit © M. Hajar A.K | Menggunakan Kamera Smartphone Vivo Y55s

Then keep in mind that human subjects in silhouettes do not need to be displayed as profiles, as when you want to display facial features (nose, mouth, eyes) that make them more likely to be recognized. It’s not our target in a silhouette photo and a neat silhouette that is at least the shape of your subject not as vague as a tree and someone who is leaning on it. But you can still place the subject of the person next to the tree not too far away. This still works for silhouettes and I often do it.

Using Auto Mode

In addition to being a solution for ordinary DSLR camera users, this part is also a solution for mobile camera users. Yes, your cellphone’s camera can also make silhouettes. Everyone including those who are laymen also want to be able to produce interesting photos including this silhouette. The problem is not all digital camera users can adjust their exposure to produce silhouettes. So here I write special tips for them.

  • For lay users who rely on the Auto or Program mode, first use the manual focus mode (MF) on the lens and focus on the subject properly. After the subject has focused, aim the camera at the brightest part in the background (for example the sun) and do not change the focus of the lens. Then half press (1/2) the shutter button and do not release your finger, then point your camera back to the subject, then press the shutter button fully to shoot. Details about how to press the shutter button please read here.
  • For camera users of your cellphone, please first change the shutter settings not to shoot continuously when the shutter button is pressed long. Before shooting, aim the camera at the brightest part of the background then press the shutter button on the screen of your cellphone and don’t release your finger in the slightest. At that time you will see a decrease in light in the scene, then point the camera back at the subject then release your finger then the camera will shoot. While the details of how to press the camera’s shutter button, please read here.

Actually looking for the brightest part does not have to be in the background, it can also be on the subject of white clothing for example. The point is to remember this trick: the brighter the part, the darker the lighting caused by the camera tries to compensate for the bright part. This is caused by how the camera metering works. And for DSLR camera metering modes, please change to Spot or Centered. Read here the guide.

Using Manual Mode

With Manual shooting mode (M) of course we can do more than the auto mode above. Usually people concentrate on shutter speed in shooting silhouettes. For me personally the first is to set the aperture value, I will use f / 8 to reduce vignette (ignore this method if you like vignette). Next I set a low ISO of 100 or adjusted. Finally, I raised the shutter speed value (the value is conditional). Or it could also just set a low ISO and set the shutter speed. The point is you only need to get good lighting on the background and darken the subject as a silhouette. If the result is too dark then please raise the ISO gradually or decrease the shutter speed value.

Photo Credit © M. Hajar A.K

Silhouette With Levitation

Achieve two expectations at once with one setting. Because for silhouettes and levitation this can be achieved by only concentrating on the shutter speed. Levitation scenes in silhouettes are a powerful and popular combination used by most people on their silhouette images.

Photo Credit © M. Hajar A.K

White Balance

I ended this section intentionally because in my opinion the main thing is knowing the technical. Because most people shoot silhouettes at sunset / sunrise, they are more likely to use “Cloudy” white balance (WB). You don’t have to depend on Cloudy and actually it’s about taste.

Photo Credit © M. Hajar A.K

If you use WB “Daylight” then you can still catch the blue sky and yellowish temperature. While if you use Cloudy, the temperature tends to orange like the first photo silhouette in this article. And you don’t have to follow the sun’s temperature, you can also create bluish temperatures like the photo of my silhouette above. So at the end of this I want you to try a different one for a silhouette photo and again it’s about taste.

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