Photographing a subject in silhouette has always been one of my favorite styles. I love the dramatic, colorful and vibrant sky along with my subject. It conveys mystery and mood in the photograph. But said that, there are a lot of things that need to be considered while shooting silhouettes and that’s what I will be talking about in this blog.
Being there at the right time: If you decide to take silhouettes, you need to plan and position yourself accordingly. Now, to take a clear silhouette, you will need your background to be brighter than your subject. So, the best time would be either at the beginning or end of the day when the sun is low in the sky – either during sunrise or sunset. But given that, the blue hours are also an amazing time to get good silhouettes. So now when you have got your background, remember you need to set your exposure setting for the background and not the subject.
Look for clear grounds: Imagine a dramatic sky, but the foreground is cluttered with heavy black blotches along with your subject versus a clean foreground with the open land and your subject tall at the horizon. Now, this is what I mean when I say look for clear grounds, position yourself in a manner where you can see the subject clearly on the horizon.
Getting the right camera setting: Shooting in Manual mode is, by far, the best way to achieve a silhouette. Also, remember when adjusting your settings, meter to perfectly expose the background light, not your subject. Underexpose the shot, as this will give your subject an even darker silhouette. Use a smaller aperture (high number) so that your subject and all the other foliage at the horizon in the image will be in focus. You want a large depth of field, but try not to go lower than f/8. Start with a lower ISO and then increase as and when needed.
White balance: A function in your camera that is ignored a lot. I use Kelvins and hence depending on the mood I want to capture I tweak my WB. If I want to capture orange, yellows, and red (warm tone) I generally set my Kelvins 6000 + and if I want to capture blues, pink, and violets (cool tones) I set my Kelvins 4500 and below. Alternatively, you can go to the presets of your camera and use shade (for warmer tones) or simply put Auto and rely on post-processing to change your white balance. But I will recommend you try Kelvins.
Focusing right: Placing the correct focus is the most important in any image. And this can be particularly challenging while shooting silhouettes. Biggest reason being, not enough light for the camera to autofocus. In this case, manually focus the camera on your subject. Remember here, all the above parameters will come to play. You have already exposed for the brighter background so now you can try and focus on the edge of the subject, where there will be more of a contrast difference.
Enhancing the silhouette in post-processing: To enhance the silhouette you have captured, you can make these adjustments in post-processing. I use Lightroom for processing my image and hence the following steps are for the LR users, but you can do the same in any post-processing software.
Increase the blacks, shadows, dehaze a bit, clarity, and contrast to define your subject even more. You can also pump up the saturation and vibrance to add more detail to your background and your image is ready!
You can see more of my silhouettes in the gallery.
Feel free to send in your questions and I shall reply to them 🙂