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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Simple Steps for Creating Bold Silhouettes

Silhouettes are very striking because they reduce your subject to a bold shape set against a plain (and hopefully attractive) background and they leave no doubt about your creative intentions. Creating silhouettes is simple and in most cases your auto-expsoure system will create good silhouettes for you if you just set up the right conditions for the shot. Here are some tips for creating interesting silhouettes:
  • Silhouettes are created by placing an opaque (non-transparent) subject in front of a bright background, so look for bold solid subjects set against a bright surface--water in the case of the shot shown here.
  • Look for colorful backgrounds. To make the shot here, I was stalking the shores of a river at dawn while the golden light of the rising sun turned the surface of the river a pretty pastel yellow. Sunset and sunrise skies also work well, but so do brightly colored walls, a sunlit field of grass (picture a rusting tractor against a field of yellow hay) or even a sandy beach (a palm tree against bright white sand, for example).
  • Keep the background as simple as possible. If you're photographing a boat in silhouette against the sunset, for example, try to keep the background completely plain--just the sky. 
  • Avoid "merges" where the primary subject might merge into a dark part of the background. Again, in the shot above, while I used some rocks as secondary shapes, the heron is positioned against a plain colorful background--you can easily trace the contour of the heron and even some of its feathers.
  • Set the exposure for the background. That's the big secret of shooting silhouettes: placing a dark subject against a bright background and exposing for the bright area. Just let your camera set the exposure and don't try to compensate in any way for the foreground and you'll get a crisp silhouette without any effort. You can always enhance the contrast a bit using simple editing software. 
Exposure info: The heron was shot with a Nikon D90 body mounted with a Nikkor 70-300mm zoom lens and exposure (in the RAW format) was: 1/60 second at f/8 at ISO 640. The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod. Scroll down to some other recent postings to see more examples of silhouettes.

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