Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Simplify Shapes with Silhouettes

I'm always preaching that the fastest way to better photos is to keep things simple. Filling the frame with a single, obvious subject, getting as close as you can and using plain backgrounds are all good paths to simplicity. Another really fun way to make things simple--especially with opaque (non-transparent) subjects that have easily recognizable shapes--is to silhouette them against a bright background.

Silhouettes are really easy to create: simply expose for the bright background and turn the subject into a black shape. If you're using a camera that has an exposure-lock feature, then you can just take a meter reading from the bright area (the sky, a bright wall, etc.) and lock in that reading. Then recompose the shot and shoot at that exposure. If you're using a really simple camera that won't let you lock a meter reading, don't worry, in most cases if the background is extremely bright (like the sunset sky here), the camera will be fooled into exposing for the background anyway.

The brighter and more colorful the background is, the more distinct the shape will be and the more dramatic the contrast. I waited until long after the sun had set to silhouette this giant saguaro cactus near Tucson, Arizona against a twilight sky. I love the transition between the warm glow of sunset and the cool blue twilight sky, but having a fun shape like that cactus in front of the sky is what makes the shot really work.

There is a complete tutorial on silhouettes on my website.

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