How to Photograph Silhouettes
Silhouettes are black shapes or opaque outlines of people, animals or objects that are created due to the main source of light being behind them. While photographing architecture, people or anything else, we have inadvertently clicked silhouettes and have often rued about a lost photography opportunity. Come to think of it silhouettes, if done properly, can offer you some excellent pictures because they tend to imply a lot more than what is visible in plain light.
When creating silhouettes, always meter for the background which in this case is always going to be brighter than the foreground. Resultantly, the subjects (whose silhouettes you’re going to capture) are going to be darker than the background and will be more prominently in black. The easiest way to do this is by focusing on the brighter part of the frame and then half-pressing the shutter release. Notice how the viewfinder lights up with the Exposure Value details. Note them down and switch to manual mode. Now, set the Exposure Value manually and then refocus on the subject with the metering absolutely what you want. Depending on the subject, whether it is stationary or mobile you might have to change the Exposure Value to ensure a blur-free image.
Don’t fire the flash
Never ever fire the flash when you’re intending to capture a silhouette. In such cases lighting up the subject is the last thing that you want.
Positioning of the light source
The best place to position the subject is between you and the dominating / main light source. Ideally the position should be devoid of any ambient light too as it can partially illuminate the subject and reduce the chances of getting a perfectly black silhouette.
Cut down on the angle
Move closer to the subject and cut down on the visible frame. This is going to help you to eliminate much of the background and any direct light falling on the camera. Also doing so you will have a better chance of filling the frame with the subject’s silhouette.
We discussed about manually setting the Exposure Value in the first step above. Apart from manually setting the Exposure Value you will also need to ensure that you get the subject precisely in focus. However, this is easier said then done, as you will be pushing the auto-focus system of your camera to the brink of its capability; and yet it would fail miserably to lock focus on the subject with the available light. The solution is to use good old manual focusing. Simply switch to manual focusing mode and lock focus on the subject keeping the Exposure Value as discussed in the first tip. Now you’re ready to press the shutter release.
Aperture settings & other bits
Start with a big f-stop (smaller aperture). This will ensure that much of your frame is in sharp focus. ideally you want the complete frame from corner to corner to be in focus as this is the only way you can add something to your pictures already devoid of colors. If you have a more than one subjects to capture (may be a group of people), have them stand at a reasonable distance from each other so that their shapes can be easily identified. Similarly, if you choose to photograph a person against an architecture, have her stand well clear of it so that both the shapes can be easily identified.