A silhouette (English: /ˌsɪluˈɛt/ SIL-oo-ET, French: [silwɛt]) is the image of a person, animal, object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single colour, usually black, with its edges matching the outline of the subject.
Lot of my clients talk about the ‘perfect’ exposure and how they want the subject and the scene to be lit properly. But how exactly one would define what is a ‘perfect’ exposure. What is technically correct might not yield the best or stunning result. I tell them sometimes, a bad exposure can actually yield a good result. It’s not a rule to capture the scene as it is. As a visual artist its your interpretation of the scene that really matters at the end of the day.
For eg: High and low-key are good example of manipulating the scene to implement your creative effect in the final output. Now, you get my point on the difference between what is technically correct and what is aesthetically pleasing.
Silhouettes is such an example of how a bad exposure can become a creative and stunning image.
For me, Silhouette Photography is a wonderful way to convey drama, mystery, mood and emotion in a picture. It is very easy to shoot it indoor, but in nature/wildlife it’s the most difficult process to achieve.
The Subject- a key ingredient
A strong subject with a defined, solid and recognisable shape. Silhouette’s lack on colours, textures and tones of the subjects, hence it is super important to choose a defined subject. It is imperative to have the subject look away from you so that you get all the features outlined properly. If a Lion/Cheetah is looking directly at you while you are making a silhouette, it won’t bring out the finer features like nose, mane, tail and ears. It is also equally important for you to wait till you get the full body of the subject. Most of the time, the grass are longer and you can’t see the legs fully. It’s case by case, some places it might work well for a subject like Giraffe, but your subject is as short as a lion or antelope, half of the body won’t be visible and you won’t get the impact that you want to create.
Elevation – A photographers friend.
The subjects that you are choosing might not be at your eye-level from your vehicle. You need the subject to be elevated above you and at a distance. So positioning yourselves at the right place comes with experience. You need to force the animals movement and take a call before the animal reaches the place and position yourself. By positioning at right place, you also make sure that your subject is clear from clutter. So, You need a distinct and uncluttered elevated place to get the animal in full.
The light – Without which there is no image.
You need to place the subject between you and the light source. The light should be directly coming behind from the subject that you choose. I have found sunrise and sunset as the best time to capture some stunning Silhouette’s. My personal preference is not to include the sun in the frame. A colourful sky with dramatic clouds add more elements to your image.
Histogram – Don’t look at it.
When shooting Silhouettes, your camera’s histogram will be towards your left side indicating it’s underexposed heavily. That’s is what was intended. Don’t get fooled.
Metering – Spot.
This is the best mode for this kind of photography. You need your camera to measure the intensity of the light only at the focus point this allows the camera to ignore the surroundings completely. Since the light source is coming directly to the camera, you might overexpose the scene. How will you achieve focus on the subject and at the same time expose it as you need? Back button focus might help here for you to lock the focus on the subject and move the focus point to the brightest part of the scene.
Why do Silhouettes work so well and why is it my personal preference?
I love creating dramatic and emotive images and Silhouette is one of the best option you have at your disposal. However, understanding the technique to capture a silhouette is only half the work, in nature/wildife you can’t dictate terms with your subject 🙂 so the remaining half depends on the subject you choose.