7 essential tips to take amazing silhouette photo’s

A good silhouette photograph might be one of my favourite things! You have the subject of course but can also do something with the background. I mean, who doesn’t love a pair of majestic clouds? I got asked what I take into account when shooting silhouette photo’s so I wrote down my top tips for you! I would love to see your results!

#1 The background needs to be brighter than your subject

The easiest way to achieve this is by photographing against the light. But there are more ways to achieve this. When the sky is overcast you can also make use of the clouds and slightly underexpose your photograph. When you are making silhouette photographs it doesn’t matter if you loose information on the dark side of the picture, after all, that is what you are trying to achieve.

#2 Keep a clear background

This relates to the point before. But when there are trees or other (dark) subjects in your way, the silhouette can’t get clear from the background, thus you are losing the effect you are trying to achieve. Good locations might be the beach, a meadow without trees, the ridge of a mountain or dune. Just make sure you can look far without having your view obscured by trees, buildings, shrubberies etc.

#3 Get low

A low stand of view helps to get your subject clear of the background. Again this goes back to the point where you want your subject to stand out in front of the background but I guess I cannot stress enough how important this is for your photograph to success! If you move your camera lower to the ground you will start to see less of the ground and more of the ground, this is important for your silhouette shot to succeed. The less ground in your picture, the better your subject stands free.

#4 Don’t use flash

You are trying to keep the subject as dark as possible. Using your flash would ruin the effect. Your camera will think you are underexposing the picture and might try to solve this by flashing. Not a good idea. If light falls on your subject on your side (coming from your camera/flash) you will not be able to create that silhouette.

#5 Shoot in manual mode

Your camera will try to expose the photograph correctly but in reality, you are trying to underexpose a bit. It’s much easier to arrange this yourself than to try and get your camera to do the exposure you are trying to achieve. I always prefer to photograph in manual mode because it gives me maximum control over the end result. When you are taking silhouette photographs, you are photographing in a typical situation where your camera gets the exposure wrong most of the time. Take control! And learn to photograph in manual mode! Don’t be afraid ;).

#6 Mind the pose

When you photograph silhouette shots, there is no detail in your subject. So it’s extra important the subject looks interesting. When you photograph a horse from the front, you will only see a “blob”, the horse will not look distinctive.  You will see that I photographed all the silhouette photo’s I made from the side. This offers the most interesting features to photograph.

#7 Vary between a complete silhouette and a shot where some detail is still going on

I also like the silhouette shots where there is still some detail to be seen in the subject. This is not a true silhouette shot, but give your creativity the free reign! Experiment! I also love to see if I can get something else in front of the silhouette as well. For example, splashing water does quite well, but I also photographed a horse running through sand against a very overcast sky. I was able to darken the horse to the point of it being a silhouette, but the sand turned bright orange! A very cool shot in my opinion. And different from the typical silhouette shot.

Foto door Ankur Dey
Foto door Tobi Oluremi

Need inspiration?

I wrote a blogpost that is chock full of inspiration! Go check out all the amazing silhouette photographs from many talented photographers!

Foto door Oussema Rattazi
Foto door Joe
Foto door Giulio Del Prete

Bonus tip to get the best silhouette photo’s!

Keep an eye on your histogram. Then you can see if you are truly making a silhouette photo or if you are not underexposing enough yet. Do you want to know how to read the histogram? I wrote a blog post that talks about the myths surrounding the histogram and how to read it. I also talk about this in my basic course.

Did you think the tips where useful?

Let me know if these tips were helpful to you! And also show me the results you were able to get!

Merel Bormans
Merel Bormans is a photographer with her website and portfolio on https://www.merelbormans.com. She specializes in equine and canine photography and travels the whole world in pursuit of the most amazing photographs!

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