Photography is about more than just taking pictures, it’s about creating photographic art and when I say “photographic art” I mean creating emotion, a story or a particular mood in an image. Unlike more traditional forms of art where, artists mostly work on emotion, mood and ideas to produce art, photographic art captures reality, the real thing, to produce emotions and moods.
Now there are many ways to create photographic art, but one that comes to mind and probably tends to be the one of the more popular forms, is silhouette photography.
Before going into the actual details of the shot, let’s take a moment to look at what we are really doing. Now most often, photographers look for and try and place themselves in a position where the majority of available light is coming from behind the photographer towards the subject, this is so you can expose the intricate details and features of the subject. In situations of low light this is when you would use a flash to illuminate the subject. Now we look at the reverse, when the available light is coming from in front of the photographer, meaning the subject is between the available light source and the photographer, this creates a backlighting effect rendering the subject darker, this is what we need to create a silhouette.
To capture a silhouette you will need to place your camera in the Manual mode as you want to tell the camera how to expose the image rather than the camera trying to expose the image as it thinks it should, this would more than likely increase the exposure time to try and bring out as much detail on the dark subject as possible, but this is not the effect or result we want. Now with your camera on manual you have the ability to change your ISO, your aperture and your shutter speed. I would suggest selecting an ISO in the region of 400-800 (this is a good starting point but won’t always work in every situation) and then look through the view finder of your camera at the scene you want to capture, now in most DSLR cameras there is a light meter scale and indicator either at the bottom or on the side of the view you see when looking through the view finder, what we want to do is expose the image for the back ground to render our subject as dark as possible, to get this exposure correct you will need to meter off the back ground (focus on the background by pressing the shutter button halfway) now you will need to either adjust your aperture or shutter speed. As you make adjustments to these you will see the indicator on the light meter move, you need to adjust so that the indicator is on the 0 or in the middle of the light meter scale. Be careful not to make your shutter speed too slow as your image may end up blurry due to camera shake if hand holding. Once you have your settings re-compose your image focus on your subject and thats the picture.
When reviewing your image on your camera screen firstly check your composition; silhouettes are often used to portray solitude so be sure to place your subject in a stong position in the frame with lots of space around it. Next you should look at your histogram, it should indicate a spike in the shadow and highlight areas with a low lying mid tone area. If your histogram shows a spike in the mid tone area you have captured too much unwanted detail on the subject.
Well I hope all of this makes sense, please feel free to ask any questions you may have.
Cheers for now.Article and Photographs by Brendon Cremer