Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Silhouettes

I love a good silhouette. They can produce a bold, eye-catching photo that can jump right off the page at the viewer. You’ll lose detail in the body of your subject but the strong outline of an image can not only help define itself but the negative space surrounding it as well.

So this month’s assignment for the Readers’ Photo Challenge is silhouettes.

Shooting a silhouette is pretty straightforward and easy. Most importantly, the light in the background must be brighter than the light on your subject, essentially backlit. Backlighting (light coming from behind your subject) in most cases should produce a good silhouette. The exception may be if your camera is set on autoexposure, it may try to expose for the dark side of your subject. If that’s the case, simply set your camera to manual and stop the lens down (choose a smaller aperture). You can view the image on your camera’s monitor to see if you’re getting it right. There also may be times where you can have your subject in shade or shadow and the background lit by the sun or another light source. Again exposing for the background should produce a silhouette in those cases.

For silhouetted portraits it’s usually best to photograph you subjects in profile, then you’ll get the outline of their nose, lips, mouth and chin. If you shoot them straight on then you’re likely only get their ears.

Sunset/sunrises are a good source of silhouettes not only because of their inherent extreme backlighting but they can produce brilliant hues of oranges, pinks and purples that can add some spectacular color to the scene.

To shoot a good silhouette you also need to be mindful about your foregrounds and backgrounds. Any object, person or even shadow that visually overlaps with your subject will be silhouetted too and can either obscure your subject or make it look like that the object is a part of your subject.

My wife and I recently took my son to visit our daughter who’s attending U.C. San Diego. It was “siblings weekend” where the brothers and sisters of students got to stay in the dorms on campus. While our children enjoyed the planned events at the university wife and I played tourist. Right around sunset we stopped by Torrey Pines State Beach in La Jolla. The sun slowly sank towards the horizon and I got some silhouetted shots of beachcombers walking the shoreline.

A wetsuited young boy about 10 or 12 played in the surf nearby. Light from the golden sun, low in the sky, glinted off of the rolling waves and the boy was silhouetted against them. But as each wave rolled up and grew they created their own long shadows. When they would reach near him they would obscure his own silhouette, making him appear to lose parts of his body. I had to time it carefully to make sure my shots were in-between waves to get a proper, readable silhouette.

Remember, the main things to keep in mind when shooting silhouettes are making sure they are backlit and have distraction/obstruction free foregrounds and backgrounds. They can be strong and robust images so make sure to get in close, fill the frame, to help emphasize that boldness that a silhouette can bring.

For the challenge they can be found situations or created scenes as long as they’re silhouetted. Have fun and good shooting!
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Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Silhouettes” in the subject line.

2. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “ This was taken my kitchen in Stockton.”)

3. If the photo includes a person please identify them by their name and hometown.

4. Photos have to be shot between Jan. 20 and Feb. 2.

5. The subject is up to you but it must be a silhouette. It can be a found situation or a created one.

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, Feb 2. The top examples will be published on Monday, Feb. 10 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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