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Friday Photo Tip: Photographing Silhouettes
by Laura Hicks -  7/12/2013

Photographing silhouettes is one of my favorite types of photography. It is also one of the easiest and most dramatic. Photographs of silhouettes usually contain rich colors that draw your attention toward the subject due to the contrast of light and dark.

Photographing silhouettes is one of the easiest genres of photography because it is one of the few times I ever put my camera on Auto mode and just start shooting. Modern cameras are extremely good at exposing for the light parts of image. Exposing for the light parts (in the background) will render your subject (in the foreground) very dark or black. Here are a few easy steps to get some great silhouette shots.

  1. Choose a subject. Whether it be a person, animal or object, a strong subject with a distinct shape will make the most interesting images.
  2. Place the subject in front of a light source. The easiest light source to use is the sun at sunrise or sunset. However, I have also photographed silhouettes at the beach in the middle of the day. I have also used the strobe lights in my studio to create dramatic lighting for maternity pictures and a moody feel for senior pictures.
  3. Set your camera on Auto with the exposure mode set to meter for the whole image, not just spot metering. Take a picture to see if your camera is exposing the image like you want. 
  4. If the image is a little too light or dark, then set your camera to manual mode after noting the aperture and shutter speed for the previous image. If the image needs to be darkened, then increase or shutter speed or lower your aperture by making the f stop a larger number. If your image needs to be lightened, lower your shutter speed or make your f stop a smaller number.
  5. Bracketing your shots could be helpful especially when you first start shooting silhouettes. Bracketing your shot will allow you to have 3 images--one being a bit lighter than the original and one being a bit darker than the original.
  6. Make sure your subject is in focus. Focusing on the background will leave the subject out of focus. Make sure to autofocus or manually focus on the subject in the foreground.