How to photograph and edit silhouettes

How to photograph and edit silhouettes

My absolute favorite thing to incorporate into a photo session is the silhouette.

Most people think it’s so tough to create one but in fact, it’s rather simple.

There are many different ways you can create and process a silhouette and some of the time it’s a personal preference not only in your style and how you photograph it but also in the post processing.  I’m a fan of a bright background, a little sun flare, and a total black foreground area.

To actually take the photo, I do not change any of the settings I use during the session but usually change the aperture to between 7.0-8.0 and meter for the sky.  I get as low as possible to the ground, ask my clients to spread out, and then do something such as jump, kiss, run, etc.  It has taken me some time to nail this down but I’ve found that once you get the hang of it, you can create some really amazing images.

How you edit the images is a personal preference. Below, you can watch how a fellow photographer and myself edit silhouettes.

Click Pro Beira Brown shares a silhouette of a family in a field. The image is almost perfect in camera.

Within ACR, she warmed the image by adjusting the temperature and tint sliders and then opened it in Photoshop.

Once in Photoshop, she added a little more yellow and magenta to get her final image.

For me, I do the majority of my edits in ACR.  I look at how the photo ‘feels’ and edit from there.

The SOOC image showed details in the clothing, had a crooked horizon, and had some items such as the sign and the one toe of the little boy that needed attention.

In ACR, I substantially increased my black slider as I’m a fan of total black silhouettes.  I also added a little blue by adjusting the temperature and tint sliders and decided to work the rest in Photoshop.

Once I opened the image in Photoshop, I decided to rotate the image clockwise until the horizon was straight.  As a result, the lighthouse was crooked so I duplicated the selected lighthouse and rotated it to where it was straight and then merged the two layers.  I cloned the beach sign in the corner and the toes of the little boy to make it look more realistic.

Voila!  There you have both mine and Beira’s edited photos.  Silhouettes add a touch of variety to a session so don’t be afraid to have some fun and be creative!

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About the Author:

Courtney captures her every day with a Canon 5d mark II and varying lenses in a classic yet modern style. Residing in Atlantic City with her surfer husband, princess-clad daughter, and firetruck chasing twin boys, Courtney is a “self-proclaimed science geek” spending her days as a Chemistry and Physics teacher and her off time as a photographer. Visit Courtney Keim online.
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78 Comments

  1. Randa Jul 06 2012 at 7:39 am - Reply

    So glad to see this post 🙂 This is next on my photography-to-do-list!

    Beautiful shots <3

  2. Emily Mulder Jul 06 2012 at 7:53 am - Reply

    I note that I set my camera aperture and speed to properly expose the sky, making sure I'm in manual mode so to keep them. Then I can focus on the subjects.

    Thanks!

  3. Janeen Jul 06 2012 at 8:14 am - Reply

    How did you know I was going to research silhouettes this morning? Great insight and I love the addition of what to do with processing too!

  4. Julie Jul 06 2012 at 8:34 am - Reply

    I love silhouettes! I was trying to remember how to do them since it's been so long. Does the silhouette need to happen around sunset in order to work? Thank you for the tip about making it completely black. I always wondered how I could achieve that.

  5. Maggie Jul 06 2012 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this awesome post! I've been hesitant to try silhouettes but will just have to give it a shot.

  6. Margy Jul 06 2012 at 9:50 am - Reply

    Great information, thank you so much, Courtney.

  7. jerilynn Jul 06 2012 at 9:59 am - Reply

    thank you so much!!

  8. CC815 Jul 06 2012 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Great Post! I will be trying out your tips this weekend!

  9. Dana Foley Jul 06 2012 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Great tips! Thanks, Courtney!

  10. Lena Peterson Jul 06 2012 at 11:02 am - Reply

    Great tips gonna have to try some out this weekend!!!

  11. Jennifer Wallstedt Jul 06 2012 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Thank you, Courtney! Can't wait to try this!

  12. Gayle Shrader Jul 06 2012 at 11:04 am - Reply

    Love this! Thanks for the tips! So helpful!

  13. Andrea Gagen Jul 06 2012 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much! I have taken a few, but wasn't sure how to go about the edits to make the silhouette black. Now I know 🙂

  14. Kira Jul 06 2012 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks! I'll try this tonight!

  15. Brandilynn2012 Jul 06 2012 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Great inspiration! Thanks!

  16. Jo Jul 06 2012 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Thank you! Gorgeous images here to inspire us all!

  17. Susy Jul 06 2012 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Wow such gorgeous images! I love silhouettes and I can't wait to try this! Thank you!

  18. teresa Jul 06 2012 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you! Wonderful tips. I've been wanting to do this for some time.

  19. Jenn Jul 06 2012 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you! I will put this on my must do list.

  20. chrisb Jul 06 2012 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    I love silhouettes thank you for all the tips and tricks!

  21. Megan Jul 06 2012 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Love silhouette shots. Thanks for the inspiration!

  22. Davina Gruenstein Jul 06 2012 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    So nice to see two examples — thanks so much for the tips. I really love the look of silhouettes!

  23. Colie J Jul 06 2012 at 7:40 pm - Reply

    so no metering for the sky, just stop down the aperture?

    Will try this tomorrow!

    • courtney Jul 07 2012 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      for me, i don't … it's become so routine (i photograph a minimum of 2-3 sessions at the beach every week) … and i keep it super simple. i do shoot wide open even in large families too i should add (think 15-20 members) … i know that some people use the rule of them is to set it to the number of subjects but i stay at 1.2-1.8 usually.

  24. Jill James Jul 06 2012 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Beautiful! Thanks for the tips! I can't wait to try them out!

  25. Emily Jul 06 2012 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Wow, that seems a lot easier than what I am always trying! Hoping to try things your way tomorrow. 🙂

  26. Mandy Jul 06 2012 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    Thank you for taking the time to explain how to get the perfect shot!

  27. Rachel Dale Jul 06 2012 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Simple and great steps! Thanks a lot for this! I am inspired to get out on the beach now 🙂

  28. Jenny D Jul 07 2012 at 5:59 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your process! I've wanted to try a silhouette photo but didn't because it seemed difficult but this is a simple way to process that I might actually try and get it 🙂

  29. Patricia Holy Jul 07 2012 at 7:20 am - Reply

    thanks for the tips

  30. Jenny Jul 07 2012 at 9:24 am - Reply

    Love silhouette shots and feel a bit more confident to go out and try them!! Thanks!!

  31. Elizabeth Jul 07 2012 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks! I'm going to try this tonight.

  32. Alexis Jul 07 2012 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    I'll be attempting this, esp. for the SH pic! Thanks for giving all the great tips!

  33. Angela Jul 07 2012 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    Thank so much Courtney! Just what I needed for my balloon silhouette attempt for the SH 😀

  34. Ellen K in MD Jul 07 2012 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    I’m happy to see this post too! Very helpful. 🙂

  35. Marina Toscano-Esqui Jul 08 2012 at 1:42 am - Reply

    I'm excitied to try. Thanks for the great advice!

  36. Tori L. Jul 08 2012 at 10:23 am - Reply

    I love silhouettes! Thanks for the great tips!

  37. Lisa Parnell Jul 08 2012 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Great read! It's on my long list of many thing to do 🙂

  38. Kathy Travis Jul 08 2012 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the timely tips – it's on the scavenger hunt list!

  39. Kim Peterson Jul 08 2012 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for the tips! I will be trying them soon!

  40. Lisa (Tout Petit Pix Jul 09 2012 at 12:20 am - Reply

    I love silhouettes! Thanks for the great tips 🙂

  41. Laura Jul 09 2012 at 5:30 am - Reply

    Thanks for this! Maybe I can use this to get that silhouette picture off the scavenger hunt list too 😉

  42. Lacey B. Jul 09 2012 at 8:04 am - Reply

    Love the tips!

  43. Erin Jul 09 2012 at 8:51 am - Reply

    Great post!

  44. Kellie Jul 09 2012 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I love silhouettes, but they are kind of hard to achieve when you live smack dab in the middle of a valley! I love it when we're at the beach in the evening and I can get a silhouette at sunset there, so hills or mountains in the way!

  45. Linda Jul 09 2012 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    These are beautiful shots Courtney – and thank you so much for adding the processing info!

  46. Amber Potter Jul 09 2012 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Great tips for getting some good silhouettes. I really need to practice on these some more!

  47. Amy White Jul 09 2012 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this!! Silhouettes are on my to-do list of things to learn and this makes them sounds so simple!!

  48. Jane Jul 10 2012 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this information! I cannot wait to give this a try!

  49. Elva Romero Jul 10 2012 at 7:56 am - Reply

    Thank you for this great article! I have been struggling with this for a while.

  50. Melissa Jul 11 2012 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Thank you for this Courtney! This is my next new technique to learn. It's on of the items on the CM scavenger hunt! Off to try my luck at silhouettes!

  51. Kara Roberts Jul 11 2012 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post – I love silhouettes but they can be tricky – this was very helpful!!

  52. Melissa Koehler Jul 11 2012 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    SOOOO awesome. I love silhouettes! Great post Courtney! 🙂

  53. Kathleen Jul 11 2012 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    This is on my summer bucket list. Shooting a wicked family silhouette.

  54. Marsha Jul 13 2012 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    wow-I needed this to get my silhouette pic for the scavenger hunt photo! seriously, I've always wanted to know how to do this-can't wait to try!

  55. Allison Jul 13 2012 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the awesome tips!! I have yet to try taking silhouettes photos. But thanks to these tips, I think I can!! This should help for the scavenger hunt too.

  56. Jennifer S Jul 13 2012 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Okay – I am now armed with my new knowledge on taking a silhouette so I am heading out to grab my 'child holding a balloon silhouette' for the scavenger hunt! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and writing it out so that it is very easy to understand! That is what I really love about clickinmoms – everyone is very willing to share their knowledge and puts it in concise, easy to understand language.

  57. Krisanne Jul 14 2012 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    I love silhouettes!! I'm heading to the beach shortly and must remember to play around with these tips 😉

  58. angelamking Jul 14 2012 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    maybe i can use this on my silhouette pics for the hunt! thanks for the tips. i'll be sure to try them out. 🙂

  59. Elizabeth Jul 14 2012 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    I love shooting silhouette shots!

  60. Heather Jul 14 2012 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    Yay! I had a hard time figuring this out and needed a bit more guidance.

  61. Helene Tobler Jul 15 2012 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    Such a great post. I want to try it out as soon as possible.

  62. rachel Jul 15 2012 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    I just got back from a week on the beach, and I took a whole lot of silhouettes that I had no idea how to process. Thanks for this post – it will help a lot!

  63. Kate Jul 16 2012 at 12:34 am - Reply

    This is fantastic! I can't wait to play!

  64. Kelley B. Jul 16 2012 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Just in time for the scavenger hunt silhouette pic! I had no idea how to do a silhouette pic and appreciate your tips, especially how to improve it after the fact. Thanks!

  65. Christina Klahn Jul 16 2012 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips! I need to try more silhouette shots!

  66. sabrina b Jul 17 2012 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tips!!

  67. Jessica W Jul 17 2012 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    I love silhouettes! Can't wait to put some of this info into practice!!

  68. Carmen Smith Jul 18 2012 at 4:26 am - Reply

    Love all the information post after post….I love silhouettes and will give them a try following this instructions. Thank you!

  69. Amanda Harper Jul 18 2012 at 7:44 am - Reply

    Love it!

  70. Lexie Jul 18 2012 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    Love silhouettes too. Thanks for showing your edits- that is really helpful!

  71. Jaime Profeta Jul 18 2012 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Obviously, I’m a sucker for sunsets and silhouettes! This is such great advice! 🙂

  72. felicity Jul 20 2012 at 3:10 am - Reply

    So great! I love the tip of just changing the f/stop– I was completely changing my SS and ISO. F/stop seems faster and simpler! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  73. Bobbi S. Jul 20 2012 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    Awesome process. Thanks for the tips Courtney!

  74. Star Davis Jul 22 2012 at 12:07 am - Reply

    I have the hardest time with this when I mean to do it my photo doesn’t turn out however I have gotten a silhouette when I wasn’t trying , so frustrating for me. I will try your tips and see if I can conquer the silhouette. Thanks

  75. wendy May 30 2014 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    So what is and how do you meter for the sky?? Is that a separate tutorial? Thanks

    • April Nienhuis May 31 2014 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      Hi, Wendy! When you meter for the sky, that’s the same as exposing for the sky just like you would expose for the skin when you’re taking a portrait of someone.

  76. Arlon Mar 11 2018 at 3:58 am - Reply

    Nice tips! Each and every step clearly explore no any confusion to follow it.. Thanks!!

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