Silhouette Photography

By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.
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Silhouette Photography - Thumbnail
Silhouette Photography - Thumbnail

Trying silhouette photography is an awesome and inspiring way to hone your skills as a photographer and create some breathtaking images.

While capturing a great silhouette images takes quite some practise and a great deal of technical knowledge, it’s not difficult to learn.

By reading this tutorial, you will master silhouette photography in no time.

Silhouette photography definition: Silhouette photography is performed by placing a bright light source behind the main subject of the image, creating a high-contrast scene, in which the main subject is underexposed (black) and the background bright (white) or properly exposed.

How to do Silhouette Photography

To properly take a silhouette photo, place a bright light source behind your subject and shoot towards it.

The key to silhouette photography is low dynamic range and high-contrast (the opposite of HDR photography). You should choose such shutter speed that the main subject is perfectly black, while the background retains all the detail or is completely white.

Lighting for Silhouette Photography

As I already explained, to create a silhouette image put a bright source of light behind your subject; in other words, do exactly the opposite of what we teach with other types of photography.

The easiest way to get the lighting for silhouette photography just right is by using the Sun when it’s low on the horizon during the Golden hour (around sunrise and sunset).

Alternatively, you can also take silhouette photos during the nighttime. When the moon is full, it’s reasonably bright and creates some beautiful and moody silhouettes. Try placing a tree, person, churches, or other objects in front of the rising full moon.

Silhouette photography - treeline

Silhouette Photography Settings

To get the camera settings for silhouette photography just right, you may need to experiment a bit.

Generally, I recommend you aim for the lowest ISO setting possible (ISO 100), wide aperture (low f-number) to get a shallow depth of field, and a shutter speed that will produce underexposed main subject.

To do so, I recommend you use Manual mode on your camera; otherwise, you’ll have to battle the camera’s system, which will try to expose the subject properly.

To make sure that you always get the properly exposed silhouette, use your cameras Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB). This feature allows you to shoot a burst of three or more photos at multiple different exposures. This way you’ll have several version of each silhouette photo, and you can make choose your favourite later.

Silhouette Photography Objects

Undoubtedly, portrait silhouettes are by far the most popular type of silhouette photos – they are easy to create, they look amazing, and people enjoy seeing other people in photos.

However, don’t forget that your main subject doesn’t have to be a person. If you’re into landscape photography, an interesting tree or treeline produced by a forest, create hauntingly beautiful photos that almost no one takes.

Cityscape photographers can use tall buildings or even the city skyline for silhouette photos. Don’t forget the landmarks that everyone recognizes just by their shapes, such as Eiffel tower, the London Eye, Burj Khalifa, the Great Wall, or the Pyramids.

Wedding photographers, don’t forget to create another set of bride and groom photos around the sunset!

Silhouette Photography Editing

If you followed every tip, I provided in this article your silhouette photos will look awesome right away.

However, don’t forget that all the exceptional silhouette photos that you see online have been post-processed and enhanced with Lightroom, Luminar, or some other photo editing software.

  1. Increase the contrast – this will create some additional drama and make up for any contrast deficiency.
  2. Increase the saturation – yes, colourful silhouette photos look good, but PLEASE, don’t overdo it. Nothing looks worse than a sky taken straight out of a cheap SciFi.
  3. Darken the blacks – to void your subject of any detail you need to make it completely black.
  4. Add a vignette – a soft vignette helps drag more attention towards your subject.

Silhouette Photography Ideas

In silhouette photography you don’t need to pay that much attention to the detail in your subject, so you can put more effort into composition and idea seeking.

These are my favourite silhouette photography ideas:Hide the Sun right behind your subject to create beautiful sun rays

  1. Capture movement
  2. Find new and interesting subjects and shapes
  3. Focus on the clouds
  4. Shoot towards windows and doors
  5. Photograph your pet or plant

Related reading: Photography ideas

Silhouette Photography Catch movement

Silhouette Photography Quotes

These are my favourite silhouette photography quotes. Feel free to use any photos for Pinterest or other social media. I can also email you the full versions. Just make sure to give credit to my website :).

“That’s what I’ll be. A silhouette, rarely seen, and yet believed in.”
Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins quote
  • “Most people chasing their dreams don’t see the bigger picture, they just see the silhouette. Make the vision real!”
    Joel Brown
  • “One of my favorite quotes ever was from Slash from Guns and Roses and he said ‘to be truly iconic, you need to be able to recognized in a silhouette”
    Matthew Healy
  • “There are not many original shapes or silhouettes — only a million variations.”
    Charles James
  • “When a silhouette or shape is as beautiful as it is functional and relevant, that’s true luxury.”
    — Reed Krakoff
Reed Krakoff quote

Related reading: Photography quotes

Silhouette Photography hashtags for Instagram

You can copy these hashtags for your silhouettes photos for Instagram.

Example #1

#silhouette #sunset #photography #nature #sky #art #sunrise #photooftheday #silhouettecameo #ig #bnw #landscape #clouds #silhouettephotography #sun #sunsets #instagood #naturephotography #cricut #beautiful #travel #love #silhouettes #cameo #papelariapersonalizada #sunsetphotography #portrait #blackandwhite #picoftheday #dusk

Example #2

#shadow #photo #personalizados #silhouettebrasil #landscapephotography #photographer #horizon #svg #tree #creative #skyporn #nikon #canon #light #beach #orange #captures #svgfiles #fashion #streetphotography #sea #view #travelphotography #handmade #night #of #instagram #summer #design #dusk

Related reading: Landscape photography hashtags

Couple Silhouette Photography

Couple silhouette photography is probably the most clichéd scenery of all time; however, it’s easy to do, and it superbly conveys emotions.

What better time is there to express love, trust, and joy than the magical colours of the Golden hour at sunset?

Silhouette Photography Conclusion

Simple as that! You’ve got all the knowledge necessary to create your silhouette photos that will wow your clients and your audience.

Now, go out, practise, and most importantly – have fun!



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