10 Tips For Taking Silhouette Photography

With silhouette photography you no longer see details of the object; it has become one black (or gray) plane where only the outline is clearly visible. With a silhouette you bring a certain tension into the photo, precisely because the details of the subject itself are missing. In this article you will learn the best tips for photographing a silhouette.

Background lighter than the subject

When photographing a silhouette, it is important that there is a large difference in light (contrast) between the subject and the background. The background should be much brighter than the subject.

The easiest way is to photograph against the (sun) light, with the sky forming the background. The background doesn’t necessarily have to be the sky. A large lamp, screens, a window or even underwater is possible! As long as it is (much) lighter than the subject in the foreground.

The combination of fog and sunlight not only produces photogenic solar harps but also beautiful silhouettes in the photo.

Clear contour and shape

It is important that the silhouette has a clear shape and contours, otherwise it will not be recognizable to the viewer of the photo. Silhouettes must separate well from the background and must not disappear or merge (partially) with other dark parts of the photo.

The insect on the left is less noticeable than on the right photo, where it is separate from the other dark parts in the photo.
This photo would have been better if the boat on the left was not “stuck” to the person.
The mist causes the different subjects / silhouettes to “separate” from each other.
We had a lot of fun taking this photo at the Icehotel in Lapland.

Squeeze your eyes and see the silhouette before taking the picture

Squeeze your eyes a little bit to better assess whether the situation is appropriate. A camera has a limited dynamic range. This means that a camera is less able to capture both very light and very dark in one image. Where in such a situation we still ‘just’ see the subject (so: without it becoming a silhouette for us) and the background is not too bright, a camera cannot do this. By squinting, you better estimate whether there is enough difference between light and dark for silhouette photography.

The light in the background is the rising sun shining through the leaves.

Start or end of the day

If you want to photograph a silhouette against the sky, then the beginning or the end of the day is often the most suitable for this. The sun is low in the sky, so the sky cannot be too bright above the ground. The sunlight has a horizontal direction, making one part of the subject easily “shaded”. It is no coincidence that most silhouette photos were taken while shooting a sunset or sunrise!

But even after sunset you still take good silhouette photos, because the sky is not immediately black, but the subject quickly darkens at dusk (as with the blue hour).

The low position makes the cows stand out nicely against the colored sky

Underexpose with a silhouette photo

Is the subject still too bright and no silhouette is formed? Then choose your camera setting so that you deliberately underexpose the photo extra.

silhouette photography
A double silhouette! You can also see the silhouette beautifully in the reflection in the water.

Increase contrast in post processing

To enhance the silhouette, you can increase the contrast in the photo in post-processing in Lightroom or Photoshop and / or make the dark tones even darker.

silhouette photography
Increasing the contrast slightly enhances the dog’s silhouette on the beach.

Play with white balance

Play with your white balance for creative effects and beautiful colors. Silhouette photography often consists of a limited number of colors; the subject is black and (in the case of a sky) has only a limited color gradient. With a custom white balance you can make the colors warmer or cooler, or create a different creative effect. You can change your white balance during shooting or (if you shoot in RAW) in post-processing.

silhouette photography
The first photo (top left) of this Buddha in Thailand was taken with the automatic white balance. The top right has been chosen for “cloudy”, bottom left for “artificial light” and bottom right a custom color temperature.

Make a star out of a light source

Is the sun in the background? Shoot with a small aperture to turn the sun into a star of light

The sun got a star shape here because of the chosen aperture and because it just protruded above the houses.
silhouette photography
The citadel in Amman (Jordan) just before the sun sets.

Minimal details are allowed

Silhouette photography does not always have to be completely dark. It’s okay if there are still some shades of gray in it. It is also not necessary for the silhouette to be the only subject in the photo.

silhouette photography
The statue in Berlin is not completely dark, you can still see small details. The silhouette provides an extra exciting image of the church tower.
silhouette photography
The riser elements in the foreground add depth to this landscape photo.

Silhouette as a frame

You can also use a silhouette as a frame in the photo, where the frame draws attention to your subject.

silhouette photography
The famous “treasury” in Petra, Jordan. The gap towards this provides a framework.
silhouette photography