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How to Take Great Silhouette Photographs

Silhouette Photography Tutorial

Silhouette photographs are one of the easiest ways of making a 'special effect' picture - they look great and, with a bit of tweaking on your camera, are well within the reach of most people. Silhouettes are a nice way of introducing some drama to your photography and can be a great way to tell a visual story but still add some mystery.

To get a silhouette image, the principle is that you have to expose your photos for a scene with some light in it, then place your subject in front of the light, underexposed. Although it's fair to say silhouette pictures mostly feature summery images and sunsets, you can do them all year round and produce some great results. Here are some tips to help you get it right.

Choose a strong and recognisable shape

As the photograph won't show your main subject in any detail, we need to be able to guess what it is without too much trouble!

Understand your lighting

With most photography, we want to be shooting with the light behind us or coming from the side. With a silhouette we will be shooting directly into the light - you can put your subject in front of a sunset, or the moon, but any bright light will do the trick.

Disable your flash

As it won't be needed for this type of shot.

Make your silhouetted shape stand out

Make sure that your overall image composition is as uncluttered as possible, so the silhouette really stands out.

Compose your image carefully

The best silhouettes tend to be in front of a pretty plain background - a beach, field etc. Try and fit your subject into one third of the frame - avoiding the middle of the frame reduces the risk of you producing a boring picture.

How to meter for the background

This is the important bit - most modern cameras are too clever, and will set an exposure for the person or other subject in your photograph. To get a silhouette, you have to override this feature. The best way to do it is to just take a picture of the background and note down the shutter speed and aperture settings your camera gives - they are usually visible through the viewfinder. Next, turn your camera to manual mode and enter these same settings - this means the camera won't try to adjust the settings. When your subject steps in front of the camera, they will appear black or very dark, and you'll get your silhouette. If you haven't used manual mode before, you will have to have a quick look at the camera's manual.

Focus points

You will probably want your subject to be in focus so just make sure you put your autofocus on, or set an appropriate focal point in the camera. Easy.