7 Steps to Create Street Photography Silhouettes

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For the street photographer, shooting a perfect silhouette is a very gratifying moment. Just like anything else in street photography, not every subject makes for an interesting silhouette photograph. Here are a few tips to help you capture an interesting silhouette on your next photo walk.

Some elements, such as bicycles, make for more interesting silhouettes.

Some elements, such as bicycles, make for more interesting silhouettes.

1. Set your camera for success

To shoot a silhouette you have to take control of your camera first. Your flash needs to be turned off. Ideally your exposure is set for the highlights (background). If you set your exposure on your subject, your camera will try to expose your subject properly. The result would reveal too much detail in the subject and blow out the highlights in the background. Exposing for the highlights is easily done if your camera is set to spot metering. You can also use average metering and trick your camera by stopping down your exposure compensation so that your subject remains dark.

Focussing can be tricky. You can spot meter for the highlights and manually focus on your subject. Or, if you shoot in Aperture Priority, set your aperture to a large number (small aperture) to allow for most of the scene to be in focus (large depth of field)

It is important not to blow out the highlights in sunrise and sunset silhouettes.

It is important not to blow out the highlights in sunrise and sunset silhouettes.

2. Don’t be afraid to blow out the highlights

Okay, I just told you to expose properly to avoid blowing out the highlights. That is certainly a good thing to keep in mind if you are shooting against the sunset, sunrise or the moon light for example. The rest of the time, unless the details in the background add to your story, you’re better off blowing out the highlights and going for a more dramatic effect. Your silhouette will stand out more on a white and unobtrusive background.

Details in the background should not distract from your silhouette.

Details in the background should not distract from your silhouette.

3. Learn to recognize a good silhouette

Now you know the basic technique to shoot a silhouette, that was the easy part. The most important piece is to be able to see a potentially strong subject, so be discerning!  Many elements come into play. The body being well defined is important, you should be able to recognize the shape right away. If the subject is facing you or his/her back is turned to you, there should be space between the arms and the body, the legs should be well defined as well. If you are photographing a person looking sideways, the features of their face should be quite clear.

Capturing the right gesture or step is a key element in a successful silhouette in street photography.

Capturing the right gesture or step is a key element for a successful silhouette in street photography.

4. Avoid obstructions

Avoid obstructions in front of, and behind your subject. Timing is important. Silhouettes of posts or other obstructions can ruin the shot. Position yourself accordingly for the best possible shot.

Timing is everything, especially in a cluttered environment.

Timing is everything, especially in a cluttered environment.

5. Try some added effects

A sunburst can be an added bonus to a silhouette photograph, and a welcome added challenge for you, the photographer.

Add to the challenge with a sunburst effect.

Add to the challenge with a sunburst effect.

6. Try a minimalist approach

Find an interesting architecture or urban landscape and wait for someone to enter your frame. Even small, the human element becomes the focal point.

A minimalist approach to photographing a silhouette can make for a strong image.

A minimalist approach to photographing a silhouette can make for a strong image.

7. Tweak in post-processing

If you use Lightroom, you can easily tweak your photograph by using the contrast, highlights, shadows and black sliders for the final touches and the look you envision.

Now grab your camera and hit the streets!

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Keith R. Starkey

    Wait, why not just expose for a normal shot, then post-process the hek out of it — turn it to a B&W, adjust all the sliders to lighten everything but the subject, darken the subject…wait, this takes too much time! Let’s do it your way, Valerie!

    Love your Street Focus podcasts, Valerie, and thanks for this article. Making a sillow…silloue…(I hate spelling that word!)…silhouette (there!) is not only fun but rewarding. When you capture what moves you, that just makes the silhouette all the more meaningful. Thanks again.

  • Thomas Little

    🙂

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