Photographing Silhouettes


This past year has been an amazing year for me in terms of how my photography skills and personal style have developed.  As part of this journey, I have had some fun creating silhouettes.  Four years ago I didn’t even know how to approach this task. This year I feel like I’ve perfected my own approach and feel confident about creating silhouettes without much thought to the technical aspect of it.  Now I thought I would share how I approach creating silhouettes.

Golden Sunset in the Hills

Backlight and Positioning
Because I prefer to photograph in late afternoon and towards the evening, I typically use a sunset as my backlight.  Light from any opening like windows or doorways work great too!  Whatever you choose for backlight it should be bright enough to be in good contrast to your subject.  If you’re lucky enough to have some fluffy clouds in the background, that can create an even more dramatic effect.  Also, try positioning yourself so that you are lower than the subject and having the subject in front of or nearly in front of the sun or light source, depending on the look you want.  I often like to get a partial silhouette or little sun flare in my image, but that’s a personal choice.


Use Manual Mode
I shoot in manual mode so I can control all the settings of my camera.  I prefer my camera NOT decide for me what settings to use, especially in the case of creating silhouettes.  For a long time I was using aperture priority and found that even when using exposure compensation, I was having more inconsistent results in my output.  Now I rarely, if ever, shoot in anything other than manual.  It has completely reduced the amount of time it takes for me dial in the exposure I want for my images.  With using the in camera meter, I still have to take a couple test shots, but I usually only need to take 1-2 pre-shots to get the exposure I want.


Forego the Flash and Meter the Background
Don’t use flash.  In most cases I would want some kind of light to fill the front of my subject so I can see some details of the face and front, but not in this case.  When creating silhouettes I only concern myself with metering the background or sky of the scene for my image.   The goal is to deliberately under-expose the image so my subject is black or extremely dark.   When metering, I will use spot or partial metering (Canon speak). If you have a Camera other than Canon, the metering modes may be called something different, but the idea is to choose a metering mode that uses a reduced amount and specific area of the scene to determine proper exposure.  I then adjust my aperture, shutter speed, and ISO for the right combination that makes my in camera meter balanced.

And that’s how I do it.