Cover banner featuring the silhouette of a female photographer, with the blog's title

Ever wonder why people are very much drawn to visual entertainment? From the Ancient Greeks’ dramatic presentations to today’s movies on-the-go, it doesn’t seem like a matter of debate that humans just love to watch or see things.

Well, as it turns out, there is a pretty plausible explanation for that: humans are 90% visual beings. This fact is backed by research, and it also explains our collective fascination on yet another popular form of visual entertainment, photography.

Photography has evolved a lot from when it first came into existence in the early 19th century. It has since branched into many different types that serve different purposes. In this blog, we will be talking about one form that’s become greatly famous for the mystery, drama, and emotion it helps convey. That is silhouette photography.

Whether you’re starting out as a photographer and are looking to learn how to take a silhouette photo, or a seasoned cameraman who’s on the lookout for new ways to present your silhouette pictures, you’re in the right place. We’re rounding up the basics of silhouette photography, plus tips to make it big in the photography industry.

  1. Understanding the art of taking silhouette photos

In order to be effective at silhouette photography, you must first understand what it truly is about, like you should with all other things.

As we previously mentioned, there are many forms of photography, with each one serving a specific purpose. For example, landscape photography is for taking pictures of nature or the destruction of it; and portrait photography is for capturing the natural essence of a subject.

Silhouette photography is known for displaying and evoking various moods and emotions, along with the signature air of mystery it brings about.

You could be thinking, “Well, how do I evoke emotions when I can’t show them in my subject?”

Here’s a tip (it’s on us!): It helps to plot or envision the feeling that you want a viewer to have after seeing the picture you’re about to take before taking it. Play around with the idea until you come up with a concept that doesn’t need to be literal to tug at emotions.

Once you’ve thought this out, it’s time to make sure the conditions are perfect for taking that silhouette picture.

  1. Recognizing the perfect time and place to take killer silhouette photos

When looking at a great silhouette photo, it’s easy to get thrown off by how difficult it must’ve been to take it. While that’s true, it’s not something study and practice won’t help you learn.

Two of the things that you must first learn to identify would be the right times of day and the best places to take a silhouette picture.

First, to get the perfect silhouettes lighting, you can start with taking photos during sunrises and sunsets because having the sun low will allow for your subject to be backlit, or in other words, having the source of light from behind them.

As you progress, you may be able to develop your own techniques that can work anywhere and any time of day, but it’s a good idea to start with these two.

Next would be determining if the location you’ve chosen is great for capturing your silhouette photo.

One way to easily do this would be to remember that silhouette photography usually involves a single subject or a group of similar subjects being the center of attention.

Checking if the area is “littered” with other things that can take the focus away from your subject (like stray animals, parked cars, or people other than your subject/s) will help you know if the location is right. This is why most silhouette photos are done in open fields, beachfronts, or similar areas.

  1. Knowing the right silhouette photography settings

Now that you’ve made sure you’re at the right place and the right time to expand your silhouette photography portfolio, it’s time to go technical.

When we have a dream and a life goal, we usually find ourselves burning with the passion to make it happen.

But one difficult pill to swallow is that passion can’t get you as far as you think it would. A factor that’s just as important as the drive to do something well is the technical know-how to achieve it.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you’re better off leaving the dream behind if you don’t know enough about something. The term ‘beginner’ exists for a reason.

With this in mind, taking great silhouette pictures requires that you know the right modes and settings your camera should be set to. Going for a manual shooting is arguably the best way to capture the most vivid silhouette photo, as it lets you adjust the settings as you go, but it’s okay if you can’t just yet.

Here are the things to remember when tweaking your camera settings for silhouette photography:

  • Aperture

    • Aperture, or f-stop, is the opening in the lens in which the light passes through. Set it to the narrow side, which would be around f/4 to f/8. This makes for sharp details in your photo, causing a clearer distinction between your background and your subject.
    • ISO

      • ISO is defined as a camera’s sensitivity to light. It’s mainly the setting that controls the darkness or brightness of a photo. Setting it to low values like 200-400 will make your subject as dark as possible.
    • Shutter speed

      • This setting refers to how long the camera shutter is open, allowing it to be exposed to light. A faster shutter speed is therefore ideal for taking silhouette pictures. Start with a shutter speed of 1/60 to 1/250, and gradually increase it until you get to your desired look.
    • Flash

      • Skip it. You want your subject to be underexposed, or having little to no light on it so make sure to turn off your flash.
  1. Composing your silhouette photo

Time and place? Check.

Camera settings? Check.

Next would be to arrange your subject and other elements in the way that you would want them in your final photo.

This would probably be the easiest to understand in this blog so far, as it really takes us back to the basics of silhouette photography: placing your subject between the sun (or whatever your source of light is) and your camera.

This is when you get to be most creative, but since we’re feeling a little extra generous today, we’re giving you some pose ideas to get you started, which you’ll be able to play around with as you go:

  • Make your subject pose in a way that best outlines their features. For example, have them look to their side so you get to capture their side profiles.
  • If they’re comfortable with it, you can have female subjects wear twirly dresses or have their hair down for added drama.
  • Couples can go for a near-kissing pose and produce both a profile and action pose.
  • If your subjects are inanimate objects like leafless trees or large mountains, position yourself so you get the best angle out of them.

The possibilities for silhouette photo poses are endless, but these should at least get you on the right track.

  1. Editing, editing, and more editing

While it’s important to do your best while in the photographing stage, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to get the best silhouette pictures like many other photographers do. Most of them do quite a lot of work during the post processing stage, especially when it has to do with silhouette photography.

You can polish your silhouette photos in image manipulation softwares like Photoshop and Lightroom.

When using Lightroom, try adjusting the highlights, shadows, and whites and blacks until your subject is your desired shade of dark.

Afterwards, you can work on the contrast, saturation, and other settings to achieve your best silhouette photo.

  1. Showcasing your best images

So you’ve taken your best silhouette photo and made it even better with image enhancements. The next thing to do would be to add it to your stack of other best photos… But is that the end? Not quite.

Another thing you have to know is that no matter how great your photos are, they won’t have as much value as when you get them out to the world!

There are several ways to go about it. Many photographers have published books showcasing their photos. Others have set up exhibits for people to view their pictures large-scale. Both are good ideas, but in today’s setting and culture, a lot of photographers have taken to online portfolios to keep their photos accessible anytime, anywhere, and to drive sales for their prized photos.

Strikingly lets you do just that. In just a few clicks, you can already come up with a website that allows you to showcase your photos and talk about your love for photography.

With its regularly updated gallery of templates, Strikingly lets its users make the process even faster. You can even choose tags to narrow down your choices and help you pick out the one that goes best with your work.

Screen capture showing Strikingly's templates

Image taken from Strikingly’s Discover page

Here are a few photography/portfolio websites by various Strikingly users:

Screen capture of photographer Maciej Blaszczuk's website made with Strikingly

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Screen capture of photographer Alexey Bogachev's website made with Strikingly

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Screen capture of The Photographic Voice's website made with Strikingly

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

Now that you’re equipped with the basics of silhouette photography and the steps to making it big in the fun and huge world of photography, the only way is forward.

As soon as you get recognition for your work, it’s tempting to think you’ve made it. Now don’t get us wrong—you should be happy for every achievement no matter how small, but remember that there’s always room for improvement.

Learn new techniques, find better practices, try stepping out of your comfort zone. After all, the best artists are those who don’t stop at what they currently know.