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In this post, Steve Berardi from PhotoNaturalist discusses five tips for photographing silhouettes.
Photographing a silhouette is a great way to capture the dramatic colors of a sunrise or sunset, and to emphasize the shape of something.
The basic idea with a silhouette is to photograph something that’s backlit by the Sun (or some other light source), so your subject shows up completely black in the image. This really helps highlight the shape of your subject, so silhouettes work great for a variety of subjects: people, plants, and even big piles of rocks.
Although they’re usually simple-looking images, there’s a few things you should keep in mind when photographing silhouettes:
Silhouettes are all about emphasizing the shape of your subject, so when you’re looking for something to photograph as a silhouette, concentrate on shape: is the subject well balanced? can you tell what it is just by it’s shape? Sometimes the things that look boring during the day will make great subjects for silhouettes, so focus on the subject’s form and structure–that’s what you’re trying to capture with a silhouette.
Since the colors change so quickly during sunrise and sunset, it’s a good idea to scout out your subject well ahead of time, so you’re prepared for the most dramatic colors. Plan on being in place and having everything set up at least a half hour before sunrise or sunset, and be prepared to stay at least a half hour after sunrise or sunset. It’s extremely difficult to predict when the most dramatic colors will occur, so it’s good to be there for the entire show
Although the most dramatic colors usually occur on the horizon where the Sun is rising or setting, it’s also possible for the best colors to be at the opposite horizon, or even straight up in the sky! It really depends on the clouds, so to ensure you capture the best colors, keep looking around while the Sun is setting or rising and be prepared to move your camera and tripod in a hurry.
One of the biggest problems you’ll face when photographing silhouettes of plants is wind. Since you’ll be shooting in low light, a slight breeze will shake the plant enough to cause a blurry photo. One way to prevent this is to shoot at sunrise instead of sunset. The air is usually much calmer in the morning than in the afternoon.
Most silhouettes are shot during sunrise or sunset, but it’s also possible to capture some great silhouettes during the middle of the day. Remember, all you need is something that’s backlit, so as long as you can photograph something with the Sun directly behind it, you’ll have an opportunity to capture a silhouette. People or plants make great subjects for daytime silhouettes.
If you have another tip for photographing silhouettes, please share it by leaving a comment below. Thanks!
About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer and software developer, who can usually be found hiking in the beautiful mountains of Southern California. You can read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist.