How to Photograph Silhouettes

How to take silhouette photos

Have there ever been times where you wanted to photograph silhouettes of people in front of a sunset? Or maybe in front of any other type of light source. I’ve seen some amazing silhouettes taken at concerts or in streets. Since Fall in California is known for having amazing sunsets, I’m sharing with you my best tips for how to photograph silhouettes. This type of photo is one where the subject is only visible as a silhouette instead of showing all the details. I know when I first started it was one of the first types of photographs I wanted to play with but was clueless as to how.

If you don’t already shoot in manual mode, you might want to brush up so you’re familiar with the terms I’m using. If you want to take it a step further, you can read my post on how to photograph a sunset.

1. Choose your subject and location wisely
What or who are you taking a photo of? When you look through your camera, you will want to make sure that the ‘edge’ of your subject is clear. They should be in front of your light source, and any other objects around them should be far away. When you’re learning, sunsets on the beach or in a large field make the best for practice because they are easy to set up in.

San Francisco Maker Faire

2. Frame your image
Find the right angle for your photo. Sometimes you need to position yourself higher or lower to get the right angle for your silhouette photo. Position your subject between you and the light source. I like to put my subject directly in front of my light source (photo below) because sometimes it produces a halo effect around the edge of the silhouette, but you can also have the light source near them (still behind). You’ll want to turn your flash off, and expose your photograph for the background. A good starter is ISO 100, F4.0, and 1/800 of a second exposure, but it really depends on the lighting in each situation and how bright your light source is. You want it dark enough so that your subject isn’t detailed, but light enough so that you can see the background well.

4. Focus, focus, focus!
This is important enough to be a point all on it’s own! I am a stickler for well focused photographs, and sometimes when you try to focus on the subject (especially with auto focus), the camera gets confused and doesn’t want to focus quickly. A quick tip to avoid this is to focus on the edge of the subject. I like to use the focus points on my camera to make it easier for myself since I don’t trust my eyes to manual focus as sharp as I’d like.

Jumping in the sunset

5. Clean It Up
Usually with silhouette photos, I do my normal editing stuff. Specifically I like to tone down my whites and highlights, and sharpen the silhouette edges. You can also darken your blacks or shadows to make sure you get good contrast between your subject and background/light source.

Sunset in Kihei, Hawaii

The photos in this post are from our trip to Maui, Maker Faire, and North Lake Tahoe. I hope these tips will come in handy for these beautiful Fall sunsets.

Have any questions? Feel free to ask in the comments below!

This post is part of my photo tips series. Want more photo tips? View the whole series here.

Flying with a toddler

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