Most of the time, you'll want to plan your silhouette photography in advance.
It's rare when some great subject matter with clean, simple lines just
happens to present itself in front of a luminous backdrop. You'll have
to find a colorful background and search for a foreground subject to match it
The photographer noticed this interesting pattern of light and
shadow, and so positioned his subject to take good advantage of
it. Photo by Jay Jorgensen
Right: A straight silhouette is an unlit subject photographed
against a bright background. Choose a subject that is readily
identified by its shape alone, since there will be no detail in
it. You can put a colored filter over the lens to add color to
the background.d Photo by Lynne Eodice
A beautiful beach usually yields great results on film, but if you add a couple
holding hands and walking on the shore at sunset, you can make a very romantic
Sometimes you can return to a scene with great potential for silhouettes, such
as the interesting statue shown here. Instead of photographing it at midday,
I returned and captured pictures at dusk, when the clean lines of the statue
were accented against a colorful sunset.
Look for subjects that have a bold and simple shape. It's also imperative
that the subject be completely surrounded by the bright background, so that
the image will read well. A couple on the beach at sunset will produce clearly
recognizable shapes, but a group of people that are lined up too closely in
a row can merge together into a dark clump.
little fill light (here provided by reflected sunlight and haze)
will add a little detail to a silhouette. If you use a wide-angle
lens, you can even include the sun in a silhouette shot; with
a longer lens, the sun and flare will overpower the image.
Exposing for silhouettes is easy. As with sunset shots, several exposures
can yield good results. If your 35mm SLR (or point-and-shoot camera) has an
averaging meter, place the viewfinder over the brightest area and use your exposure-lock
feature to hold that exposure in place.
If it's sunset, and you want some detail in the foreground of your picture,
shoot about 15 minutes after the sun goes down when there is still some ambient
light around. Balance your exposure readings halfway between the foreground
and the sky.
As with sunrises and sunsets, you might want to experiment with filters to enhance
the color of the sky when photographing silhouettes. You can use a sunset, enhancing,
or amber filter to give you a variety of colorful background effects--your
subject will remain black.