50 Photo Projects to Try before You Die. 1. Creative Silhouettes

50 Photo Projects to Try before You Die. 1. Creative Silhouettes

Shoot Stunning Silhouettes

In the first of a series of 50 photo project blogs to “try before you die” we kick of with Silhouettes.

Silhouettes are by definition, a photograph where you deliberately under expose the main subject against a bright background for a deliberate and very specific effect. Of course, a correct “normal” exposure for a subject when creating a silhouette, would mean you don’t get the desired deep shadows that are a silhouette’s distinctive feature; but a “correct” exposure is in reality whatever you, the photographer, want for a desired effect. With silhouettes then, you are going to underexpose the main subject to such an extent it will lose much of its detail, becoming subservient to the light beyond, to make a specific, often graphic-looking shadow effect. Here are my tips on creating silhouettes with some rather alternative creative interpretations of the effect you might like to experiment with too. Enjoy!

The Viewpoint

To get a good-looking silhouette one of the most important factors, apart from the exposure you choose to use, is the viewpoint. Typically, for most silhouetted subjects, a low viewpoint will help add drama and tension to any shot but it mainly ensures you get the subject brightly backlit by the sky, for example. Going in low then, helps you get plenty of sky behind a scene and makes getting the requisite silhouette easier to achieve. But whatever viewpoint you use, you’ll need to get the strongest light behind the main subject of the photo.

In this shot, a low viewpoint has allowed me to get plenty of sky (and the setting sun) behind the bridge to get a dramatic silhouette effect.
In this shot of a bridge over the M20 motorway, a low viewpoint has allowed me to get plenty of sky (and as a bonus, the setting sun) behind the bridge to get a dramatic silhouette effect with some key highlights to add to the graphic effect.

The Subject

Choice of main subject is a vital component of successful silhouettes. Trees and buildings with strong graphic outlines make great subjects as does the image above of a bridge over the M20. Skeletal trees in winter are also ideal, but you can choose anything that is strongly backlit, has space around it, although that is not always vital for success as we shall see below. Here a twig with rain droplets makes a great silhouette effect; I cropped tightly to make sure the sunlight (the sun can be seen in the main water droplet, itself with silhouettes inside) comes in from behind and slightly above allowing me to get both a partial silhouette of the twig but an interesting effect of revealing the silhouetted backdrop beyond and all inside a water droplet. In short, don’t always go for the obvious silhouette subjects.

A water droplet and silhouetted twig make an unaula silhouette subject, so don't always go for the obvious.
A water droplet with a silhouette inside and silhouetted twig and spider web, make an unusual silhouette subject; don’t always go for the obvious subjects.

The Metering

Camera settings I use for silhouettes are pretty basic, Aperture Priority, where you control the aperture and so the depth of field and the camera deals with the shutter speeds for you but the most important control is the metering. You are deliberately underexposing the main subject of the shot to make the silhouette, so use spot metering and measure the light from brightest areas of the scene behind the subject (or wherever the brightest are of the scene is) to make sure you throw the subject into deep under exposure.

Spot metering is the spot icon on your camera’s metering selection settings, but if you’re not sure, check with your camera’s manual to get at it. Alternatively, try using the auto exposure lock (or AE-L) mode on your camera if it has this feature as part of its specification. This fabulously powerful control lets you choose an area of a scene to measure light from, lock that setting then use it elsewhere in a shot. Use it to set the light metering on the camera to the brightest area of the scene and then compose and take the shot.

By spot metering from the brightness of the sky beyond this person, they've been thrown into a graphic and deep silhouette.
By spot metering from the brightness of the sky beyond this person, I’ve thrown them into a graphic and deep silhouette aided by some astute post processing.
The Framing and Image Crop

As alluded to above, the framing and composition can be a key factor too. You can zoom in or out to emphasise details (as with the twig shot above) or to make the image seem less cramped by having more space around a silhouetted subject.

Don’t underestimate the importance the sky makes in scenic silhouettes, particularly the sky’s colour or cloud details. Sunsets lend themselves to silhouettes of, say, beach umbrellas also surely one of the most ubiquitous silhouette shots you’re likely to meet? The colour and clouds can become key components in themselves. However, also look for space and other unusual subjects, I have silhouetted an entire landscape below along with a foreground growth of trees including the sun in the shot as well.

A silhouetted foreground growth of trees reveals the sky, it's clouds and colour and the landscape beyond in this rather unorthodox silhouette.
A silhouetted foreground growth of close up and distant trees reveals the sky, its clouds and colour and the landscape beyond in this rather unorthodox silhouette.

While in the next silhouette, mist at sunrise spilling between the branches of a tree has allowed me to make a much more confined-looking silhouette by spot metering to the sunlight in the mist beyond the tree.

Misty sunrise and a rather nice-looking tree make for another unusual silhouette; I spot metered to the shafts of sunlight to attain the effect.
A misty sunrise and a rather nice-looking tree make for another unusual silhouette; I spot metered to the sunlight beyond the tree to get the right effect, but don’t underestimate how important the sky colour is too.

And so there you have it. Creative silhouettes come from astute use of camera’s vantage point, the light, the subject, the framing and how you meter. Don’t be afraid to experiment by silhouetting subjects that would not always lend themselves to a silhouette treatment as it will depend greatly on the available light. That is how I did the landscape silhouette and back-lit twig with rain droplet images above. Above all, have fun and I hope you enjoyed the first of my “try before you die” photo-project blogs.

Check back soon for more news and tips and advice, but the second installment of this new series will be how to capture creative movement in landscape photographs.

That’s it for now but watch this space for more or you can…Subscribe To My Blog Today

Regards and get snapping, Doug.

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