Silhouettes can be beautiful. They accent a person’s facial features in profile, they can make someone look mysterious, they can accent shapes and make objects & people look iconic. Shooting a silhouette can be quite easy with a few simple steps.
A silhouette occurs when the background is bright and the foreground is dark, resulting in an outline of the features against the bright background. To achieve this, you need to expose the photograph so the background is correctly exposed (or overexposed), allowing the shadowed foreground to be dark through underexposure.
Silhouettes can be made with any kind of camera. If you’d like to take your image a step further, using photo editing software can enhance the silhouette by controlling the bright areas and darkening the shadow areas (don’t worry, you don’t have to buy Photoshop, or any other program for that matter). Here are some tips for creating silhouettes for both point-and-shoot and SLR cameras…
1) SHOOT AT THE RIGHT TIME OF DAY. The best time of day for shooting silhouettes outside is when the sun is low in the sky. Sunset, sunrise, or magic hour are perfect. This is the time of day when the shadows are rich, while the sky has some, but not too much light.
2) BACKLIGHT, BACKLIGHT, BACKLIGHT. Place your subject with the bright sky behind them, so their face is in shadow.
3) UNDEREXPOSE YOUR SUBJECT.
To do this with an SLR camera: set the dial on top of the camera to the AP (Aperture Priority) setting. Then set your exposure to -2 stops to start (this means the camera will underexpose the shot by 2 stops). You may want to experiment with different exposure settings until you get the look you’re after. Take a look at your camera’s operating manual for these functions if you rarely venture beyond the Auto setting.
To underexpose with a point-and-shoot camera: point your camera at a bright part of the sky (not the sun) and press the button down half-way. While still holding the button down half-way, re-frame your shot to how you like it and press the button the rest of the way down to take the picture. You may need to play around with different areas of the sky to get the right look. You’re basically tricking the camera into giving you the exposure you want.
Some compact cameras have “exposure compensation” settings, allowing you to under or overexpose your shot using +1, +2,-1, -2 settings. If your camera has these settings, great! Choose the -2 setting to start.
4) ADJUST THE LEVELS. If you have a photo editing program, such as Photoshop, then it is very easy to adjust the levels of your shot. If you don’t have a program like Photoshop, try Pixrl, by Google. It’s a free photo organizing and editing program that I LOVE. It’s super easy to use, and great for quickly making adjustments to your images (and did I mention, free?). To enhance your photos using Pixrl, double click the picture, and under the Tuning tab, try boosting the highlights a bit and darkening the shadow areas.