How to Take Silhouette Photos: Easy Techniques and Tips

Updated on August 20, 2018
chasmac profile image

Chasmac has traveled extensively and taken photos along the way. The pictures in this article are his own.

Silhouette Photography

In silhouette photography, the aim is to take photos that render the subject as a dark, featureless silhouette against a bright background. Silhouette photography is all about shapely outlines. The detail is absent from the main subject because it has been deliberately kept too dark for any detail to register in the final photo. This focuses the viewer's gaze on the shape of the outline. The effect can be quite dramatic and atmospheric.

Taking silhouette photos is easy with just about any camera, and the following photos are simple examples of silhouetted subjects taken with basic camera equipment.

Sillhouetted Thai spirit house.
Sillhouetted Thai spirit house. | Source

The Basic Technique of Silhouette Photography

The basic technique of taking successful silhouette photos is simple and straightforward: Have the source of light behind the subject. This puts your subject in dark shadow and takes advantage of your camera's inability to correctly expose for both the dark subject and the light background.

If you expose (meter) for the dark subject, the background will be completely over-exposed and the subject will have unwanted detail. You certainly don't want that effect if you're going for silhouettes.

On the other hand, if you expose for the bright background, the subject will be completely dark and featureless, and it will contrast sharply with the bright background, which is exactly what you want.

Mount Nantai in Japan, silhouetted against the remaining rays of sunlight after sunset.
Mount Nantai in Japan, silhouetted against the remaining rays of sunlight after sunset. | Source

High Shutter Speed = Low Camera Shake

Another bonus to exposing for a bright background is that the intense brightness of the light source, especially if it's the sun, allows you to use a very high shutter speed. This eliminates, or at least significantly reduces, unwanted hand-held camera shake. and enables extra sharp outline detail to be captured.

Any remaining subject detail in the image can easily be removed with photo-editing software.

Solar Eclipse

This is an example of nature setting up the shot. The photo below is of a partial solar eclipse (90% of total). All I had to do was be in the right place at the right time to press the shutter button. This shot wouldn't have been possible without filters and other equipment if it hadn't been a cloudy day. The clouds acted as natural filters. Without them, or suitable filters over the camera lens, the remaining "slice" of sun would have been too strong and ruined the whole shot, and probably my eyes too.

Although the main subject was the eclipse, and the photo recorded the event successfully enough for basic (non-specialized) equipment, it's the clouds that steal the show visually. They look dramatic when backlit and also provide a natural frame around the subject.

Partial solar eclipse.
Partial solar eclipse. | Source

Black and White

Fisherman silhouetted against reflected light from river.
Fisherman silhouetted against reflected light from river. | Source

Black and White

As the subject in a silhouette shot is rendered completely black, it should come as no surprise that black and white photography is well-suited to this style and often increases the dramatic impact of the scene.

In the photo above the light source wasn't direct sunlight but reflected sunlight from the river. The choice of black and white and the relatively small size of the subject in the frame enhances the loneliness of the scene and the solitude of the fisherman.

Silhouetted Castle Ruins

This is a view of a silhouetted Scottish castle ruin. A subject like this is an obvious candidate for black and white treatment. It's always easy to associate black and white images with views that evoke scenes of centuries past.

Again, the clouds appear more dramatic than they were in reality due to them being backlit by the sun. They contribute to the overall brooding atmosphere that we expect from Scottish castle ruins. That's especially true of this one, Bothwell Castle, in central Scotland, a castle that has seen its fair share of murder and intrigue.

Scottish castle ruins silhouetted against a stormy sky.
Scottish castle ruins silhouetted against a stormy sky. | Source

Landscape Silhouette

In this final example, the cloud is opaque enough to block out the sun completely and becomes a silhouetted subject itself as well as a natural filter. The landscape below is also silhouetted and the outlines of the trees and pylon contrast sharply against the much brighter sky.

Silhouetted cloud and landscape.
Silhouetted cloud and landscape. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 chasmac

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • chasmac profile imageAUTHOR

        chasmac 

        15 months ago from UK

        You'll still have light spilling on to the profile so it won't be a true silhouette. Might be an interesting effect though. - But don't blind your model.

      • Hippie2000 profile image

        Hippie Untiet 

        15 months ago from Wisconsin

        Going try this with some slide film. I will have someone facing my projector. Project a image onto their face. I'm going to be on their profile side all set up. Set the aperture down 2 stops. Just to get a little underexposed. How do think that would work for a silhouette?

      • chasmac profile imageAUTHOR

        chasmac 

        6 years ago from UK

        Sounds great! I wish you better luck this time Austinstar. Thanks for your comment.

      • Austinstar profile image

        Lela 

        6 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

        I love silhouette photography. One of my best photos was a silhouette, but the subject was so far away that the photo was unusable. I only had a second to take the shot and I was on a boat at the time so I got camera shake. I've been wanted to set that photo up again under controlled conditions.

        Hopefully, I will get to do that this December for the 12/21/2012 big Mayan party in Cancun! I'll be attending that event as well as fellow hubber RealHousewife.

      • chasmac profile imageAUTHOR

        chasmac 

        6 years ago from UK

        Yeah, me too, laziam. Thanks.

      • laziam profile image

        laziam 

        6 years ago from Philippines

        thanks for the tips! i love taking silhouette pictures -- one of my favorite subjects. :)

      • chasmac profile imageAUTHOR

        chasmac 

        6 years ago from UK

        Thanks SG. It's much appreciated

      • sgbrown profile image

        Sheila Brown 

        6 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

        Very good information for taking silhouettes. You have some very good pictures here. Voted up and sharing. Have a good day! :)

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://feltmagnet.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)