How to Take Silhouette Photographs

November 11, 2010

in Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials, Susan Keller

Post image for How to Take Silhouette Photographs

This is a repost of an article that Susan Keller wrote for I Heart Faces over a year ago. We hope you find this article as informative as we did when we first read it last year. -Angie & Amy (co-founders of IHF)

silhouette post 500px

sil⋅hou⋅ette [sil-oo-et] –noun,
1. a two-dimensional representation of the outline of an object, as a cutout or configurational drawing, uniformly filled in with black, esp. a black-paper, miniature cutout of the outlines of a famous person’s face.
2. a dark image outlined against a lighter background.

In photography, a silhouette is defined as an outlined shape that appears dark & without much discernible detail against a lighter/brighter background. This effect can be achieved with any kind of bright light source; of course, the most commonly used source is the sun, often around sunrise or sunset. The backlighting from the sun (or any bright background) shadows everything towards you. Your goal as the photographer is to expose correctly for the bright background, thus forcing everything else in the photo to be underexposed, producing, [tada!], the silhouette.

Ok, now that the requisite “technical” detail is out of the way, let’s move on to our less esoteric list of helpful hints.


Firstly, let me assure you that this is Easy. Really. Any child could do this. With any kind of camera. It’s truly as simple as pointing a fully automatic point and shoot camera straight at a bright sky and pressing the shutter. Truly. Cameras can practically do this with their eyes closed.


That said, here are some tips…

1. You have to TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. This is imperative.

2. Try using a smaller aperture (larger number) to increase the depth of field – this means you’re more likely to have a sharper foreground and background in your shots. A smaller aperture might also reward you with a sunburst effect if the sun is your bright light source.

3. About metering (if you’re shooting in manual mode): if you’re using spot or center weighted metering, you need to meter for the SKY, NOT the subject. Full evaluative metering should work fine all by itself.

4. Try placing your subject directly in front of the sun to cause a “glow” effect around your subject.

5. Be very intentional about placing as much of your subject as possible against the bright background. I’ll show an example below of a picture I took that could have been much improved had I placed my son more fully against the sky, above the horizon.

Notice the difference between these two. I failed to get my youngest son fully against the light. But my oldest son is clearly profiled against the sky.

sunset park2 sunset park6

Here’s a picture that could have been a much stronger silhouette if I had changed my perspective, shot from closer to the ground, thus placing my men above the horizon:


Here’s my attempt to place the sun slightly behind my son to get that lovely glow-y effect. If I had used a smaller aperture, I might have gotten a sunburst appearance.



So that’s about it. My long-winded account (ironic, since I usually use words sparsely) of how to take a really quite simple picture. To sum up:
1. Find a bright light source.
2. Stick something in front of it.
3. Turn off your flash.
4. Press your shutter.
5. And, of course, be sure to share your favorite one with us all during Silhouette Week!


For more silhouette samples, feel free to drop by my Silhouette Sequel post on my blog. I promise I use almost no words. 😉


Susan KellerAbout Susan

I totally love a great roadtrip adventure with my dudes, or a cozy afternoon curled up with a good book. “Reality” tv totally sucks me in. I prefer my chocolate to besemi-sweet and my Diet Coke to have a squirt of root beer in it. Photography makes my heart sing and waterskiing leaves me sore & limping but deeply satisfied.

Susan is an Orange County Baby, Child & Family Photographer. Find her on her blog, Short on Words, and  Facebook for tips, specials and client sneak peeks.


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen April 17, 2011

Thanks for the article. I love practicing silhouettes. I recently posted my latest attempt here:


Karen C April 16, 2011

Thanks for the repost! Once we get some sun again, I can’t wait to give this a try!


Pink Martinis and Pearls March 8, 2011

GORGEOUS photos!!!


Aysha February 23, 2011

Wooooow, I’ve always wondered how people take these photos, as it’s never worked for me! But thanks for this tutorial, it’s great Susan!! 🙂 Cant wait to try!


becca boo photography November 19, 2010

I cannot wait to try this!! Thank you so much for posting this!!!!


Jenny November 11, 2010

I am going to give this a shot, but I guarentee it won’t come out the way it’s supposed to…


M November 11, 2010

Thanks for this… very helpful for next week’s contest! c: I can’t wait to start on my silhouette shooting!!


Hannah November 11, 2010

I loved this tutorial when reading it first time around – And it was nice to have a review before silhouette week:) Great post, Susan!


Jen at Cabin Fever November 11, 2010

Thanks for the repost! I didn’t see this the first time around and its definitely nice to read up and review short simple techniques for this!

Cabin Fever in Vermont


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