Photo Tip Friday: Using Silhouettes in Photography, Part 1

by Mary Denman     @MaryDenman

PHOTO 1: A church at sunset by Mary Denman Photography

There are so many ways to express or capture a feeling in particular moment. That's why I love the creativity of photography.

Today's technique can create wonderful mood in your shots. 

I want to teach you to use backlighting to create silhouettes.

PHOTO 2: The Grand Tetons by Mary Denman Photography

PHOTOS 1 & 2: With the light coming from behind the church and behind the Grand Tetons, the foreground of each shot is almost completely blacked out, creating the silhouette effect. 

Notice that the sun had set in both cases which gave rise to the beautiful colors as well.  

TIP 1: The lighting needs to be behind the subject in order to create a silhouette. The setting sun provides a great opportunity for silhouette shots. The subject can be an object - the church, deck, mountains or people - but they need to be in front of your light source. 

PHOTO 3: Silhouettes of my children by Mary Denman Photography
PHOTO 3: Here is one of my personal all-time favorite pictures. 

Why? These are my kids. We were at an aquarium and they were just watching the fish. I stood across the room, waited for everyone else to move out of the shot and I took this picture. 

Notice I said I waited. Not all shots happen the second you think of them, or notice the potential for a good shot. I got far enough back and just waited. Other people were walking through, but this picture was worth capturing.

Look at how bright the tank is. The lights were shining down directly into the tank. That created great contrast between my darkened kids and the bright tank. 

TIP 2: Indoor lighting can be used to create silhouettes as long as the light is behind the subjects. There needs to be enough contrast between the light area and the subject. Otherwise, the entire picture will be too dark. 

PHOTO 4: Sunrise at the beach by Mary Denman Photography

PHOTO 4: Here's another use of silhouette 

This is a sunrise shot and the silhouette is the bird. It's a seagull. You can't see the feathers or eyes of the bird, or even the color. But you can certainly feel the movement of the bird soaring. 

PHOTO 5: Sunrise by Mary Denman Photography

PHOTO 5: What I did was let the brilliance of the rising sun "wash out" this shot, causing the water to sparkle and the board walk to become very dark. 

Again, this is creating the silhouette effect. 

The strong lines of the man-made deck stand in stark contrast to the soft light of the sun and waves. 

To me, the sun feels warm. It's almost like being there again. 

TIP 3: Very bright light can create opportunities for silhouettes. Bright light tends to wash out a picture, which can be used to good effect if you know what to look for and how to harness that. Silhouettes are one way to do it. 

You'll notice that these are tricky lighting situations: either dimming light or direct bright light. That requires a bit of technical explanation and I'll go into that next week in part 2. I'll also teach you how to trick a point and shoot camera into taking these shots. 

For BLOGGERS: As you practice photography, you'll feel more comfortable using your own images for your blog. This is great for a couple of reasons. 

1) Your own photography can help you with the creative side of your blog. Think content! Either your photos can inspire or illustrate your posts. Both are valuable. 

2) Your photography can help you avoid copyright infringements. This is real and can be a huge deal. Just because you see an image on the internet does not make it free! Many an innocent blogger has used images found online and then found themselves in hot water with attorneys and lawsuits. Sad, but very true! By using your own pictures, you can avoid this all together. 

Hope these tips help. 

Keep on clicking!


TWEETABLE: Using Silhouettes in Photography (click it and share)


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  1. Thanks for these tips. I luck in on some good shots but there is no technique. I really like how you've explained how you took each shot and have shown different examples of each technique. Waiting is something I am not naturally very good at - that is something I will try to work on in order to take better photos!

    1. We can all get better! I'm really pleased to know that the explanations help. Keep practicing and see how much your shots improve!

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Everyone loves a sihouette. I love your last idea. Very cool.

  3. Oh Mary the church silhouette is beautiful, thank you for sharing on the Friday Features this week.
    Hope you have a great weekend!

  4. I am trying to use my own images but the gap is huge. One day I will get there, eventually.
    For now I try to balance my pictures and stock ones not to hurt my reader's eyes. ;)
    I'm learning lots from you!

  5. I'd love to get better at taking sillouttes. You've given me some great tips here. Especially about waiting. Waiting for the right back light. Thank you!

  6. Love your tips and photos. Thanks for helping us take better pics.