My love for silhouette images started with photographing my three girls. There is a hill just up the road from our house that I would drag them up to practice whenever there was a colorful sunset.
I love how silhouettes tell a story, yet there is still so much left for the viewer’s imagination. And they’re quite simple to create with a few steps!
Prepare your client.
When clients request these images, I will tell them ahead of time to plan on waiting for that perfect moment at the very end of our session. Be patient!
One thing I have learned along the way is that the best time for silhouettes is usually a few minutes after the sun has set and the sky bursts into color. I also suggest they wear something a little more form fitting as loose shirts and flowy dresses will make your subject look larger than they really are.
Pick a good location.
I most often take these images at the beach, but there are so many other great locations for silhouettes. All you need is a clear view of a beautiful sky at sunset.
There have been times where I have needed to be a little more creative to find an unobstructed view. Since they are higher up, I have found that the top of parking garages work well. If we are in a location that just doesn’t have a clear view, I will lie on the ground and shoot my subject from below. This works well for images like this of the mom throwing her baby up in the air.
Choose the best lens.
I use a variety of lenses, and I choose which one is best for that particular session based on the space I have and how I am trying to frame my subject. My current favorite is the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. The way this lens captures the rich colors of sunset amazes me every time. It is fast and consistently sharp, even in low light.
If the beach is crowded, I tend to shoot closer to my subject to isolate them from everything around them. If this were the case, I would choose a wider lens like the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L. Other times, I like to shoot from much farther away to create a smaller silhouette, like this one that I shot with the Canon 200mm f/2.
Get your settings in order.
I shoot in manual mode, and when choosing my settings, I first expose for the sky. I most often am shooting young children or subjects that are moving, so I prefer a really fast shutter speed. This means my ISO might be pushed a little higher than normal. My aperture is usually somewhere between f/9 and f/16 so the sunset and sky (or if I happen to catch a bird flying through the sky) are clear behind my subject.
Emphasize with post processing.
Most of my silhouettes are shot against just the sky – if any other foreground is included it is minimal and simple. Because of this, my edits are fairly quick and easy.
I use Lightroom to saturate the color of the sky and decrease the blacks. I get rid of any noticeable pieces of dust that might have shown up on my sensor using the spot removal tool and straighten the horizon using the angle ruler. I increase the whites to brighten the sky up a bit, and I decrease the noise only if there is noticeable grain. If shot correctly, a silhouette image doesn’t need a lot to make it pop!