Photograph Amazing Silhouettes in 4 Easy Steps

A beautiful silhouette can sometimes be one of the most engaging, creative types of photos. I love a crisp, colorful background with a dark, precise silhouette line in contrast. Maternity portraits are fairly easy subjects to photograph in silhouette, for example. Most pregnant women don’t care to see themselves at 36 weeks of pregnancy, so silhouettes are welcomed, showing off the shape of the belly nicely. Shoot fabulous silhouette images with these 4 tips:

1. Set Your Camera

Set your manual settings as if you were shooting the bright sky without someone in front of the camera. After all, it is the sky that we want to capture in all its colorful, properly exposed glory.

I often start with an ISO around 100 on a bright sunny day, and set my f-stop around 7.1 or so. Take a sample shot to expose for the bright sky, then adjust the shutter according to what you see. After you get a great photo of the sky without the person, add the person in and take another with the same settings. You still may have to play a bit, but that setting gives you a strong start.

2. Position the Subject

Two types of spots work especially well when shooting a silhouette:

Put the subject in the shade

In this first example, the subject is under a tree. It was a bright sunny day, and my best option was to be in the shade and shoot out to the sunlit spot. If there’s distracting clutter in the background, get very low to the ground (don;t be afraid to put your ear on the pavement). This separates the person from the distractions in the background and ensures the subject doesn’t cross lines with building lines. In this image, I used an 85mm lens with ISO 125, aperture, f 5.0 shutter speed 1/5000

Put the subject in an open field at sunset

In this image, I was shooting in the evening sun, without the option of a tree overhang. The sun was low, so I positioned my subject in front of the sun to block it. I think these type of shots are always so beautiful if you can catch even a little of the sunset color and clouds in the sky. I used the 28-75 lens at 68mm with ISO 200 aperture, f 9 shutter speed 1/250. Settings vary depending on the brightness of the sun, but these are great for starting off the shot.

3. Pose Your Subject

  • When just one person is being photographed, position her arm back awkwardly to avoid creating an image without arms.
  • If the subject has longer hair, have the subject pull her hair back in a ponytail to reveal the neck and facial features.
  • Ask the subject to put her second hand out of sight, straight down by her side, so it doesn’t look odd.

4. Edit Your Silhouette

Finally, you can finalize your photo afterwards on your computer. Darken the shadow a bit (for example, you can use the Levels or exposure sliders in Photoshop or some other photo editor). Also, consider brightening the background. In addition, saturate the color to make sunsets more colorful.

photo credit: Kristen Duke and Shari Hanson