Silhouette photography

What is a silhouette photo? | How to take a silhouette photo  | In the studio | Tips

We all know a silhouette, the familiar black shadow that is created when you have too much backlight. Sometimes you deliberately want these, but most of the time this shadow arises by accident. Especially when shooting in automatic mode. In this article, we will tell you all about taking a silhouette photo, and we will give you a few tips, so you can take the most beautiful photos.

What is a silhouette photo

A silhouette photo actually speaks for itself, but we'll still explain it a bit. A silhouette is a black shadow created when you are having too much backlighting. The silhouette is one black or grey area where only the outline of the object can be clearly seen. The lack of detail adds much more tension in a photo. But how do you take a silhouette photo?

How to take a silhouette photo

We can't give you written-out settings on paper when you get started taking silhouette photos, but we can point out what you can look out for to create a good silhouette. Focusing is not very complicated in this type of photo, as you focus on your main subject. But what is more challenging here is focusing on the transition from the main subject to the background. We'll give you a few tips to help you optimize your silhouette. By using a short shutter speed and small aperture, you easily underexpose your photo, giving your silhouette less detail, and when you take a low ISO, you create less detail in the black areas. This stands out quite a bit in the black areas.

Silhouetting is super complicated for our cameras to do well. The automatic mode will have a much slower shutter speed to highlight the underexposed parts. Another thing that can happen, your camera may pop out the internal flash to self-expose the subject. So then it's time to switch to shooting in manual mode. Then you can have a lot of influence on the silhouettes you capture.

Silhouettes in the studio

Of course, there are many ways to take silhouette photos; outdoors, in buildings or in the studio. But how do you do it in the studio where there is no room for daylight? If you create enough backlight it is quite possible to create a silhouette. Most of the light source should come from the back of your object. Place one light behind your subject, turn of your flash, and you can take a silhouette photo indoors!

Tips for taking a silhouette photo

To get started, we've compiled some tips for you. After reading, it's time to start practising and doing it. After all, you only learn photography when you start doing it.

Background lighter than your subject

The most important thing when creating a silhouette is the contrast ratio between the background and the subject you want to capture. In fact, the background must be much lighter to create a silhouette. The easiest thing to do is to start taking pictures against the (sun) light, with the sky being part of the background. The background does not always have to be the sky, but also try a large lamp, screens or just windows.

Creating clear forms

A silhouette loses a lot of detail when it is well done. However, to keep the subject of your photo clear to viewers, it is important to keep certain things in mind. Make sure the silhouette has a clear shape and the subject can be recognized. For example, make sure the silhouette is clearly separated from the background and does not merge with other dark parts of the photo.

Squeeze your eyes together and see it in front of you

Not sure if you found the perfect situation for a photo? Then, squeeze your eyes together for a moment to get an even better sense of whether the situation is really appropriate. This is because a camera is limited in dynamic range, meaning that a camera is less able to capture both very light and very dark in a single image. When we can still "just" see the subject with our eyes, a camera cannot capture it as a silhouette.

Time to take silhouette photos

Photography can't be done without the right light, but what is the ideal time for taking silhouette photos? Dawn or dusk is often the most appropriate. That's because the sun is low in the sky, so the sky is not too far above the ground in bright colour. In addition, the sun's rays have a horizontal direction, this makes it easy for one part of the subject to fall into a shadow. Most of the silhouette photos are taken at sunrise or sunset.

But even just after sunset, you can still shoot good silhouette pictures. In fact, the hour after is also called the blue hour. That's because the sky is not black right away, but the subject is quickly darkened in the twilight. So ideal for silhouettes!

Post-editing for more contrast

Is it still too light for a good silhouette? Don't be put off then, because after shooting you can enhance the silhouette by using Photoshop or Lightroom. In these programs, you can increase the contrast in the photo and/or make the darker tones even darker.

Influencing the white balance

In addition to contrast and making your photo even darker, you can also play with the white balance. This will give your photo special colours and creative effects. The photos often consist of a limited number of colours: the subject is black/dark grey and the background (if it is a sky) has a limited number of colours.

When you affect the white balance, you can make colours warmer or cooler, it depends on what you want and what the photo needs. Changing the white balance can be done while shooting or in post-editing (only if you shoot in RAW).

Silhouette as a frame

Want to realize even more creativity in your photos? Instead of making a silhouette of the subject, make a silhouette of your subject's surroundings. Thus, you create a frame to focus attention on the subject that's actually exposed.

Exit automatic mode

Silhouetting is super complicated for our camera’s to do well. The automatic mode actually gets a much slower shutter speed to still highlight the underexposed parts. What is also possible is that your camera turns off the internal flash to expose the subject itself. Then it's time to switch to shooting in manual mode. Then from now on you can have a lot of influence on the silhouettes you capture.

Enough information and tips gathered, let's head outdoors! If you want to learn even more about how to take different photos or just edit your photos, take a look at our photography tips!