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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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
A sunburst can be an added bonus to a silhouette photograph, and a welcome added challenge for you, the photographer.
Find an interesting architecture or urban landscape and wait for someone to enter your frame. Even small, the human element becomes the focal point.
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!