Photography Tutorial

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Silhouette Photo

10.08.2007 Category: Photography
Silhouette means a picture where only the outline of the subject is visible and the subject is of one color. Silhouette is usually made of two colors, the subject being black and the background being white. The most common subject for a silhouette is a side profile portrait of a human. Silhouettes can be made for example by drawing or by cutting paper but here I discuss the creation of a silhouette picture with a digital camera.

Silhouette Photography

Silhouette photo

Picture 1. A photo taken against bright light tends to look like a silhouette.

Several things require attention when photographing a silhouette. Firstly, the contrast between the subject and the background has to bee extensive. So the light has to shine from behind of the subject. This kind of situation is easily found when photographing the subject against the sky. In my opinion, the most favorable moment to shoot a silhouette photo is when the subject is against a bright sky and the sun is setting.

In my opinion it's best to leave the sun (or other light source) completely behind the subject. This way the excessive brightness and lens flares can be avoided. When the sun is setting the automatic settings of the digital camera might work well but one should at least check that the flash is turned off.

Silhouette photos created with digital camera won't be fully two-colored. The subject itself can be made completely black by under exposing it but there usually is a gradient of colors in the background. If you would like the picture to be fully two-colored, it can be made in digital image processing. When the subject is fully black, it should be fairly easy to change the color of the background for example to pure white in image processing software.

My Experience of Taking a Silhouette Photo

Silhouette photo created with a digital camera

Picture 2. Face is often portrayed from side in silhouette pictures.

While I was on holiday in Greece, after photographing multiple sunsets I decided to try, for the first time, to create a silhouette photo with a digital camera. I had never before taken a silhouette photo on purpose but sometimes when photographing against bright light the result had resembled a silhouette photo.

My daughter Amanda agreed to be the model in my silhouette picture and I decided to try to create one. We waited for the sunset and took a few different silhouette photos against the sunset. Picture 1 is one of the first photos I took. The situation in picture 1 was problematic. The subject was from waist down against a dark background so it might merge with the background. Luckily Amanda was wearing a skirt which received some color to its outline from the bright light shining from behind. This way the subject wasn't completely black and it was distinguishable from its background.

Picture 2 is more like a traditional silhouette. In picture 2 the subject is completely underexposed and therefore is depicted fully black on the yellowish background.