Become A Master of Silhouette Photography: Facts & Tips

Usually, when we talk about photography, the first thing that crosses a photographer's mind is light, clear focus to a subject, white balance etcetera-etcetera. But silhouette photography is all about the background. The subject is mostly dark, leaving the viewer to their own imagination.
photo of a beach with palm trees and reflections
Silhouette photo of a shoreline
In my opinion of the easiest ways to add some drama, mood, and emotion to your photography is to click a silhouette photo.

I know you will have so many questions about Silhouette Photography, and this article will tell you everything you want to know about this format of photography.





History of Silhouette

Before photography, Silhouette was a famous form of Victorian art back in the 17th century. 
Modern Silhouette Art
A modern form of the silhouette art by Steve Johnson from Pexels


Silhouette art used to be one of the quickest and cheapest ways to create portrait images. But as time went on, people became fond of oil portraits which captured the real beauty of a person in the portrait with complicated color combinations. And hence the art of silhouette became less popular until the 19th century when this art returned as a form of photography style. 

How to pronounce Silhouette

For people like me🙋 whose native language is not English, Pronouncing such a complicated word is difficult. Especially when they are reading it for the first time.

Silhouette is pronounced as   "Si-low-ett "


How to capture Silhouette photo

Step 1: Find a unique subject

Select your subject such that it is recognizable even when it is fully dark. For example, a group of people standing in a manner that their individual body lines are visible clearly as shown in below picture.

People jumping on the beach. Love pattern

The key point in selecting a perfect subject for silhouette photo is to focus on the clarity of body lines or the sharpness of the edges in case of still life photography so that the viewer must always be able to identify the subject. 

Step 2: Composition 

Fist and foremost requirement to click a silhouette effect photo is that the source of light should be at the background of the subject, in other words, the subject must be placed in front of the light source.

Secondly, your image must have a theme or a story to tell. As your viewer cannot see the face of the subject, the mood of your image must be set using your composition.

I will be telling you more about image composition for silhouette photography later in this article.





Step 3: Flash and ISO settings

For Silhouette photography, Flash should be turned off and the ISO should be as low as possible. Remove your camera from automatic mode, as your camera will surely turn on the flash and boost the ISO to provide the best light to your subject in focus. Try to use only the light coming from the background.

Step 4: Set Exposure

Try to set exposure using the brightest part of your photo. This balances the darkness of your subject in accordance with your background. You can do this by positioning the camera's focus point to a brighter area just outside/near to your subject. (For DSLR, a light press on the shutter release button and for phone camera tap on the screen to focus)

Step 5: Click your image

Once you have finalized your subject, background, composition and camera settings, take multiple shots of the same image.

Step 6: Post-processing

Almost all the photographers these days post-process their photos using various editing tools, to enhance the details of their pictures.

To obtain a perfect silhouette photo, the last step is to post-process some key settings that are, exposure(to adjust the brightness of your image) ,Highlights and Shadow(Adjust the highlights and shadows to enhance details like clouds, birds in background) White and black adjustment(Adjust the white and black of your photo to boost the color contrast between the dark and bright side of the image). Remove any dust spots or lens flare from your image.

Now your image is ready.

Best time to click Silhouette photos outdoors

Best time to click silhouette photos outdoors is morning hours between 8am to 9am and in the evening 4pm to 6 pm when the sun is down the horizon. 

As by now you already know that the secret behind clicking a perfect silhouette is, the source of light should be just behind the subject thus, just after Golden hour(Sunrise) in the morning or just before Blue hours(post-sunset hours) in the evening is the best time for Silhouette photography.





How to compose a Silhouette Photo?

Image composition depends totally on the imagination of the photographer. You must first compose the image in your mind before actually clicking it. Also, try to be simple and don't add too many details while clicking a Silhouette image.

Some popular ways of composing Silhouette images are:

1. Take a low angle shot

Get down to your knee or lie down on the ground, and position your subject in such a way that you are covering it from bottom to top. 

Beautiful Girl standing in a farm. Grassland hills photo
Photo by osman alyaz from Pexels

2. Headshot 

Position your subject,  in front of a bright light source, facing sideways and click some great headshots. You can use props like a paintbrush or makeup brush or musical instrument like a flute to add extra details to your image.

Man standing in front of round back light. Curly hair head shot
Photo by Malcolm Garret from Pexels

3. Group photo

You can position a group of people standing at a little distance from one another in front of a bright background like a sunset horizon and click a beautiful silhouette photo.

Random people sitting in the beach. Dramatic clouds
Photo by Charles Pragnell from Pexels

Another way of composing a group of people for a silhouette photo is by asking them to jump at the same time and click burst shot to capture the images of the group in the middle of the jump.

Group of people jumping on a beach. Sunset photography. Beach photography

4. Silhouette image of a landscape

Switch on the viewfinder of your camera(use rule of thirds) and position the city line on the lower line of the grid. You will get a beautiful Silhouette picture of the city line as shown below.
Sunset photography of a city line with reflection
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

5. Still life Silhouette photography

Shoot still life photography using a wine glass, bulb, windchimes, lensball etc , place them in front of a bright background as shown bleow.

Silhouette photography using lensball on a beach.
Lensball Photo by Sindre Strøm from Pexels



Hope you liked my article on Silhouette photography. Please do leave your comments in the comments section below. 




Photos that are used in this article are taken from photo stocking website and use of these images are for educational purpose. No copyright infringement intended. All rights of the images are reserved with the owners of the images. Refer to the link attached to the images to know about the photographer.

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