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Place the subject’s entire body, from head to toe, against the sky. In order to do this, you will need to be lower than the subject. You can do this by laying on your back, or stomach, while taking the shot.
If you are unable to get low enough, you may need to have your subjects get higher, such as on the very top of a rock, small hill or sand dune. This will hopefully allow you, in most circumstances, to get an angle that places the subject’s entire outline against the sky. You can see a variety of landscapes utilized in the examples below.
Hint: It’s so, so, SO important that their feet are against the sky! Legs in a silhouette portrait that are cut off above the feet look like weird, short stumps. If you can’t find a suitably spot at a location, you can play with silhouettes of a closer composition.
Silhouettes work best around 20-30 minutes before sunset. However, it does vary with the angle you are able to achieve – the greater the height difference between you and the subject(s), the earlier you will need to take the shot.
If you wait any longer, the sun will be hidden behind whatever your subjects are standing on, and the sky might not be bright enough to make a silhouette. If you do it too early, the sky’s colours can be a bit boring and you will be dealing with other issues, such as sun flare.
Tip: Silhouettes can be taken earlier before sunset if the sun is partially blocked or filtered through strong clouds.
Set your camera to Aperture Priority (AV) mode, with an aperture of f/2.8, and ISO of 400. Have Evaluative Metering selected, which means that the camera will take into account the whole scene when deciding how to find a balanced exposure.
If you fill the frame with your subjects’ faces or bodies, then the camera will expose for their skin, even with a bright background (see example below).
If you fill the frame mostly with a very bright sky, than the camera will expose for the bright sky, brining out the natural sunset colors and making everything else in the photograph dark.
So, if you place your subject directly against the sky (bright), than the subject (which is darker) will be heavily underexposed. The result – a silhouette!
Both photographs were taken on the exact same setting mentioned above, only seconds apart. The difference? Composition, and what is filling the frame – subject or sky.
Silhouettes are very forgiving of poor facial expressions (simply because you cannot see them), but very harsh when it comes to outlines. After taking each shot, check to make sure that nothing looks odd in the photograph.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when posing subjects in a silhouette:
Try to capture at least one silhouette at every photo shoot, whether it is a family portrait, maternity, engagement or wedding. Why? Because they sell!
Here are some reasons why clients love to purchase silhouettes:
We hope this guide gives you the confidence to go out and try your own silhouettes.
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