Did you enjoy this article? Share it!
Take this shot: Silhouettes
by Debbi Allen on 27th August 2009
One of the most important aspects to get right when shooting silhouettes is proper exposure. To calculate this, you first need to position your subject between the light source and your camera. Set your camera to manual exposure and use an external light meter, or your camera’s internal meter (in Spot-metering mode), to take a light reading from the highlight area. Alternatively, try metering the background and then the subject. The difference between these two readings provides the right silhouette exposure. You then need to expose for the background only, so that everything in the foreground is recorded as being dark. Make sure you experiment with alternative white balance settings as well to warm up and cool down the colours in your photos, as these can have a great effect over the mood of your final image. You can also increase your depth of field by setting a small aperture, ensuring that you’ll have a greater range of elements in focus within your image. If you’re using slow shutter speeds, then a trustworthy tripod or other stable object is a must. If you can justify the cost, it’s worth investing in a good, sturdy tripod. At night, a bright, full moon can be a very effective ‘backlight’, as can artificially-lit fountains, street signs, or car headlights, for example. With bonfire season upon us, there should also be ample opportunity to experiment with nocturnal, al fresco silhouettes.
1. White balance
When shooting a sunset silhouette, make the most of the sky colour by taking the camera out of Auto White Balance mode. Try switching your White Balance mode to ‘cloudy’ or ‘shady’.
Concentrate on the subject’s outline when framing your shot, in order to achieve the best composition. Keep the background as plain as possible,making the shape of your subject the main focus.
For the purposes of shooting silhouettes, manual focusing is the best way to achieve this, as the dark tones of your subject will result in your lens ‘hunting’ in Automatic mode.
For maximum impact in your shot, always make sure there is as little light as possible falling onto the subject itself. Otherwise any detail will be recorded, spoiling the black silhouette effect.
Return to techniques archive »