Silhouettes in profile

One of my favorite things to shoot or just to look at is a well done silhouette. A Nicely done one can be a strong compositional element and can make your subject really stand out. Some may think that shooting a silhouette is a tricky thing but it’s actually a relatively easy thing to do.

A silhouette is when there’s a large discrepancy in exposure between your subject and the background. Typically your subject will be in shadow and the background is well lit. If you exposure for the subject, then the background will be overexposed. A silhouette happens when the lighter background is well-exposed which caused the darker subject to become a silhouette. Exposing for the light coming from behind in a backlighting situation will yield the same results.

The tricky thing about silhouettes is being able to isolate your subject. If you have too many things in the foreground or background that are in the way or overlapping with your subject, such as branches of tree, then they will become part of your silhouette as well. A few can be acceptable, but it there are too many or they’re too big, they can obscure your subject to the point of being unrecognizable.

Try shooting from a low angle, then you can have a clear sky as a background. One time where a high angle may work is when you have the light from a setting sun shining off of a body of water.

If you’re photographing a person, try to shoot them in profile, looking to one side or the other. Then you can have their eyebrows, nose, lips and chin in the photo. If you shoot them straight on, the best you can hope for is getting their ears in the shot.

Whether taking a shot of a person or thing make sure it has a distinctive shape. Alone tree, bridge or person can make great silhouettes but something more amorphous, like a undefined bush can be harder to make out.

Quite often people think of silhouetted photos as outdoor shots but you can get them indoors as well. Setting your subject up in front of a window with light pouring in can be very effective as a silhouette.

Silhouettes can make for very strong photos, compositionally speaking. It just takes a few simple steps to make them work for you.

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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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