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Tips for Photographing Silhouettes

Learn How to Capture Silhouettes with Your DSLR Camera

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Tips for Photographing Silhouettes
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A silhouette is a photograph where a dark figure or shape is against a light background. You might even have taken one accidently if you've ever tried to photograph someone with the sun behind them! But, done correctly, silhouette photos can produce extremely striking images. Read on for some tips on photographing silhouettes.

  • Backlight your subject. The easiest way to photograph a silhouette is to use the sun as your backlight. Positioning your subject in front of the sun's direct light will give a stronger silhouette. You'll find that the light is best at sunrise or sunset, because of the color temperature of light at this time of day.

  • Meter for your background. You'll need to meter for the strong background light in order to silhouette your subject cleanly. Point the camera at a clear and bright section of light, and press your shutter button halfway to get an exposure reading for your shutter speed and aperture. Make a note of these, and then set them manually on your DSLR. Ideally, you want a fast shutter speed to have the most success photographing silhouettes.

  • Turn off your flash. This is another reason to use manual settings on your camera, particularly if you have a DSLR popup flash. On an automatic setting, the camera is likely to meter for your subject, and will use the popup flash as "fill-in" flash, trying to make the subject bright. Using manual settings means that you can chose to keep the flash off, which is key in creating your silhouette.

  • Move close. If you move closer to your subject, it will be far easier to block out the direct light (as mentioned in my first point). This also gives you a greater choice of angles, and it allows you to move around to find the perfect positioning.

  • Focusing. You'll probably want the subject in sharpest focus, but automatic focusing will struggle to pin down a dark shape. There are two ways around this. First, switch to manual focus on your lens, as your eye will be more able to focus on your subject than the DSLR camera's automatic focusing. Second, you could set a large depth of field by manually setting your aperture at around f16, ensuring that all of your image is in focus.

  • Think about shapes. A silhouette needs to be a strong image. So, if you're photographing a person, place them in profile, allowing more of their features to be outlined. If you're silhouetting an object, you want to look for an object that has curves and angles that will stand out in silhouette. With that in mind, you can see why trees are such a popular silhouette photography subject!

Most importantly, have fun and experiment when photographing silhouettes. Having fun is what photography is all about, after all!

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