One of the simplest ways to capture the dramatic colors of a sunrise or sunset is to photograph a silhouette. A silhouette is a view of an object consisting of an outline and a featureless black interior. In photography the term is used to describe an image of a person, object or a scene that is backlit and appears dark against a lighter background.
There is something mesmerizing about the story silhouettes hold without showing the subject’s detail. Silhouettes capture the viewer’s attention immediately by conveying a sense of mystery and drama; making the viewer’s mind work to fill the missing pieces of information with their own imagination.
Whether done purposely or by mistake, shooting silhouette photographs can present some of the most unique and interesting images one can have in their collection.
The term silhouette dates back to the 18th century where portraits and other pictorial representations were cut from a thin black card. The silhouette was named after the French finance minister Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767) who was known for his severe economic demands on the French people and as it happen de Silhouette also practiced this art form himself.
Although silhouettes are simple looking images, there are a few little tricks to photograph them. Here are a few that you will need to be aware of:
Ø To shoot a silhouette one should ensure that there is more light shining in the background than in the foreground of the subject. Always have the background lighter than the subject that is being photographed. Placing a dark object against a brighter background will produce an outline of the form creating more of a two dimensional picture.
Ø Having a two dimensional shape, the picture will convey more of a mood or emotion than detailing the landscape. Hence the picture should have strong and recognizable shapes without the merging of people with the background. To create a good, strong silhouette photo look for interesting shapes with a clear and distinctive outline that is simple and uncluttered. However more intricate subjects like trees can also look stunning as silhouettes.
Ø Turn off the flash, since you want little light in front of the subject to capture a silhouette. The light desired is in back of the subject rather than the front.
Ø Make sure you frame your shot well, so that you are shooting your subject in a nice plain background. Remove clutter and distracting objects from the frame. For a visually impactful silhouette shot, the subject should have a clean background. Ideally best background will be a bright cloudless sky with the sun setting.
Ø Aperture – Using a higher f-stop to maximize the depth of field, allows a sharper foreground and background in the shots.
Ø Exposure - The exposure is based on the brightest part of the picture. Focus on the subject so that the outline is sharp. Remember to expose the background but focus on the subject. There are however, exceptions to this rule. For creative effect, some photographers occasionally choose to focus on an object in the background as well, to create a blurry silhouetted subject in the foreground.
Ø Focusing- Aim your camera at the brightest part of the picture, and push the shutter halfway down. Without letting go of the shutter, aim the camera back at your subject. This will ensure the camera will not automatically light up your subject and ruin the silhouette.
Ø If a person is used in the picture, using a profile is better than the front of the person making facial features more recognizable.