Silhouette Photography - 6 Advice


If you've never done a silhouette shoot before, even a smartphone camera will do it for the first time. After that, you can pick up any DSLR that has a manual mode. You will need it to adjust the focus, exposure, depth of field, and flash - the final result of your work depends on these parameters. Silhouette photography seems easy, but if you don't know the basics, you'll likely end up with a rather dull shot.  

Once you understand the basic techniques, challenging lighting conditions will become great opportunities for exciting photography and creating a site with works

In this article, our Portfoliobox team will give you interesting information as:

  1. Silhouette photography - 6 tips
  2. What is silhouette photography?
  3. Different types of silhouette pictures 
  4. 6 ways on how to take a silhouette photo
    1. Choose the right object
    2. Turn the flash off
    3. Choose the proper lighting
    4. Frame the shot
    5. Create clear and concise silhouette shapes from photos
    6. Focus
  5. What are the camera settings for silhouette photography?
    • Auto shooting mode
    • Manual mode
  6. How to edit silhouette photography properly?

What is silhouette photography?

What is silhouette photography

The silhouette technique is used when working with a model in the studio, in underwater photography, subject photography, architecture, landscape, and still life - in a word, and it has a wide application. It will not be superfluous in a photographer's arsenal. It is not demanding in terms of execution, but on the other hand, it is not easy to make spectacular silhouette pictures. Silhouette photography doesn't rely on flash; you capture a silhouette by photographing an unlit subject against a bright background. Therefore, you aim to take a good picture showing:

  • flat;
  • plain;
  • dark silhouette with a lighter background.

 A harsh backlight obscures the subject, hiding its details. The subject may be a person or an object, but only its shape is visible in the frame.  

Usually, we want to balance the exposure during shooting and achieve an evenly illuminated scene. But in silhouette images, the bright background needs to be correctly exposed while the subject darkens and loses all or most of its detail. 

Silhouette from photos wins when the background is much brighter than the subject. It takes advantage of what might otherwise be a tricky lighting condition. Such photographs take a more minimalist approach than conventional images with detail. They reduce the visible information by concentrating solely on:

  • outlines;
  • contrast;
  • patterns;
  • shapes. 

Different types of silhouette pictures 

As an artist, what do I get from having an agent

Silhouette pictures are beautiful and meaningful. It has its mystery, its emotionality, and its mood. It makes you think about the content of the shot. A similar silhouette is not always the same essence. You have to look closely to create the right impression. It all depends on the imagination and fantasy of the viewers of your photos. Two main types of silhouettes from photos are described in more detail below.

Type Description
Silhouette photography in natural light

Select sunset or sunrise to make stunning sun silhouettes, landscapes, human, animal, or bird figures particularly expressive. The camera settings should be as follows:

  • Set the aperture priority;
  • Set the aperture priority and choose the correct value to achieve the desired depth of field;
  • Set the exposure metering to the lightest and not too bright area of the sky, so that a bright area is typically exposed, and darker objects become underexposed and appear as sun silhouettes.

Don't rely on automation. The sun or a halo around it might be bright, and the camera will try to set the shutter speed to correctly expose the bright colors, making your shot almost entirely dark. Avoid the typical mistake of beginners when composing a frame - do not overload it with many silhouettes. A silhouette picture should be as simple as possible. The most successful shots are those in which all foreground objects are small, have a distinct and simple shape, and are well arranged. The bottom part of the frame (black) should not occupy more than half of the total area; instead, move the camera slightly upwards and capture more of the sky in the frame.

Silhouette pictures under artificial lighting

The lighting scheme is not complicated; you only need a movable light source and a homogeneous background. We promise that it will be as beautiful as sun silhouette photos. And you must have an idea - as the background is homogeneous, it can't "stretch" the picture (like a beautiful sunset). In silhouette photography, there is no detailing usually emphasized in traditional photography. An idea could be a striking pose for the model, constructing complex figures in different poses, or even an entire scene. The most straightforward tips can be:

  • Experiment with different acrobatic poses, but make sure that the model's arms don't blend in with the body;
  • Look for unusual angles if you are shooting subjects;
  • Make different compositions. 

You could make do with a single light source behind the subject or have two light sources at 45 degrees behind the subject to illuminate the background. The light in the background determines the exposure.

6 ways on how to take a silhouette photo

When your camera is set up, choose your subject. But how do you shoot? What kind of light should I place? Which angle should I select? There are no set rules, but here are a few tips to help you take your first silhouettes from photos.

1. Choose the right object

Almost every object can be represented as a silhouette, but some are better suited for this purpose than others. Choose something with a clear and recognizable shape that will look interesting enough to the viewer, even in two-dimensional form. Silhouettes from photos cannot be based on objects' colors, textures, and tones, so the shape must be distinct.

2. Turn the flash off

If you're shooting in auto mode, your camera may want to use the flash, which will ruin the silhouette. In this case, you need as little light on your subject as possible - so you should abandon the flash (however, it has been seen in some experimental silhouette shots with the flash on).

3. Choose the proper lighting

When it comes to lighting your subject, you need to forget most of what you know about standard photography and start thinking backward. Sometimes, it seems to be complicated to understand how to take a silhouette photo. But instead of lighting your subject from the front, when shooting silhouettes, you need to ensure that most of the light comes from the background rather than from the foreground. 

In other words, you need to illuminate your subject more from behind than from the front. A sunset or sunrise is ideal to get a sun silhouette, which is the background against which you can photograph your subject, but almost any bright light source will do. 

4. Frame the shot

Frame your shot so your subject is in front of a nice and simple yet bright background. Usually, the best background is a bright, cloudless sky with a setting sun. You need to place the brightest light source behind your subject (so that it is hidden behind it or that it is somewhere else in the background).

5. Create clear and concise silhouette shapes from photos

If there is more than one shape you intend to represent as a silhouette, try to keep the distance between the objects. For example, if you make silhouettes of a tree and a person, do not place the person in front of the tree or even ask them to lean on it. In this case, the objects will merge into one shape, and the viewer will be perplexed as to what it is.

Also, when composing the shot, you may want to make silhouette pictures of people in profile rather than looking directly into the frame. This way, more features (nose, mouth, eyes) will stand out, and the person is more likely to be recognizable.

6. Focus

In most cases, you'll want your silhouettes from photos to be clearly in focus. It complicates the process because the background is in focus when you press the shutter button halfway to meter the exposure. To get around this point, you can follow two strategies. 

  • First, if your camera has manual focus, you can use it. Focus before you measure the exposure.
  • The second way is to use your aperture to maximize the depth of field (the fraction of the image that falls into the focus area). Set a small aperture (i.e., a larger aperture number) to increase the depth of field - that way, you're most likely to get a strong background and foreground.

A final tip on silhouette pictures is that a full silhouette, where the whole subject is black and sharp, can be very effective. Still, it's worth considering a partial silhouette, where only part of your subject details is presented this way. Sometimes one little ray of light makes an object look a little more three-dimensional and 'real.' That's the beauty of bracketing - it allows you to choose between general and partial silhouettes.

What are the camera settings for silhouette photography?

What are the camera settings for silhouette photography

The camera settings will depend on your skills and the desired result, but like everywhere else, two modes are used. Answering the question: “ How to take a silhouette photo?” requires specific camera settings. It differs from any other type of photography by placing the subject in front of the light source rather than in front of it. Even when you take your pictures using the AUTO mode, you will still be able to get a great shot.

Auto shooting mode

The problem is that most cameras are so clever that they will illuminate the subject instead of underexposing it to get a silhouette, so you need to outsmart your camera. Here you can find detailed information about cameras with AUTO mode:

  • Most modern digital cameras have an auto metering system that adjusts the exposure, so everything is well lit.
  • Most cameras adjust the exposure level automatically when you press the shutter button halfway (simultaneously as your focus). So aim the camera at the brightest part of the silhouette photography and press the shutter button halfway (and don't release it). Then, move the camera back to frame your subject, press the shutter button, and take the picture. Most digital cameras will create silhouettes of your subject.
  • If you are shooting silhouettes in auto mode, try pointing the camera at the sky (not at the sun!) and lightly press the shutter release. Then aim the lens at your subject and take a few pictures.
  • Most cameras know how to determine the appropriate exposure level, so you get great silhouette pictures.
  • Some digital cameras also have spot or center metering modes, which can help you with the above technique, as the camera will measure exposure at one point rather than several. It means you can tell the camera exactly where you want to correct the exposure in the light background.

Manual mode

Silhouettes from photos are best captured using Manual mode. You adjust the exposure so the background is as bright as possible and the main subject is darker. There is a short tutorial about setting in manual mode:

  • Set the shutter speed to 1/125 for a stationary subject and 1/250 when the subject is on the move. 
  • Don't set the ISO sensitivity above 800 because if you have a simple camera, the picture will have "noise" when the ISO sensitivity is that high  
  • And don't forget to turn the flash off.
  • The aperture setting determines how transparent the background and silhouettes from photos are. For the desired effect, the depth of field should be set to maximum, and the aperture left almost closed - the minimum value for silhouette photography is f/8. It keeps the background and subject sharp.

How to edit silhouette photography properly?

How to edit silhouette photography properly

You already know all the basic tricks on how to take stunning silhouette photos. But to enhance the effect and make the shot look deeper, you can use a photo editor to apply some finishing touches to the photo. We recommend Movavi Picverse, because it contains all the tools you'll need to add depth to your images. What can I do using the image editor? You can follow several tips described below:

  • Try increasing contrast to make your silhouettes from photos stand out from the background;
  • Turn up the saturation of the photo, which will make the silhouette even more prominent;
  • Experiment with the black and shadow settings if you want your silhouette pictures to be completely dark;
  • Don't be afraid to use filters, but avoid the ones that make darker colors soft. With over 100 filters in Movavi Picverse you're sure to find exactly what you need.

How will Portfoliobox help?

Silhouette photography is easy if you know the basics. The most important thing is where you stand concerning the light source. Now, you have to pick up your camera and start creating. We're sure that if you take our tips and practice, you'll have memorable and atmospheric silhouette pictures to add to your portfolio. With the help of Portfoliobox, you can put together a well-thought-out and stylish portfolio that will present you in the best way!


What should I wear to make silhouette pictures?

You will need bodysuits, or tight-fitting clothes to capture silhouettes. If you wish, you can take a nude photo. Light-colored clothing (flesh-colored, white, pink, etc.) is required for a black background photo. Black underwear and clothes are not suitable. You can also wear light-colored jeans. 

Do silhouettes have to be black?

Silhouettes are usually black. To make a good silhouette, you have to play on the contrasts between the bright background and the dark object in the foreground. Silhouettes can be all black, but since these shots have little detail, the foreground subjects' shape and position are critical.

How do you shoot a silhouette indoors?

Taking a silhouette photo indoors or in a studio is easy. You just need to stick to the correct camera settings, lights, and clothes for your model. 

What role does light play in silhouette photography?

The key to a successful silhouette is, of course, the light. The effect of a correct silhouette is achieved when the light source is behind the subject, and there is practically no light in front of it. But also, don't forget that you can get a great shot with the right camera setting, even if the subject is lit.

Luovan työn tekijöille tehty verkkoportfolio

Kaikki työkalut, jotka ammattilainen tarvitsee

  • Dynaaminen verkko
  • Tasaiset rivit
  • Kultainen leikkaus
  • Neliösuhde
  • Keskitä
  • Palapeli
  • Satunnainen
  • Vaakasuora
  • Vaakasuora 2
  • Vaakasuora 3
  • Pystysuora
  • kaksi–yksi
  • kolme–yksi

Aloita ilmaiseksi

Luo nyt portfoliosivustosi

Rakenna oma portfoliosi