Lighting tips to photograph silhouettes indoors
Portrait Photography Indoor Photography Low Light Photography
October 12, 2018

Silhouettes are nothing but backlit images. The subjects are normally in shadow. The outline of the subject is visible in silhouettes. Capturing silhouettes is one of the oldest forms of photography. We have associated ourselves with such images from time immemorial. Each of us has a silhouette of our own. They might be taken intentionally or even by mistake! When we stand to pose for a portrait on a beach with the sun behind us, we get a dark image of our self. More often than not, it is an unintentional silhouette portrait that results. So how do we ensure that we get a proper silhouette indoors? Let us take a look at the procedure to take various types of silhouettes indoors using studio lights and natural light.



1) Perfect silhouettes:


A perfect silhouette is one in which the subject is entirely dark and only the outline of the subject is visible. In case you are trying to shoot such a silhouette indoors, all you actually need is a single light source. Place the hair light behind the subject and switch off the key and fill lights. Make sure that there is no light falling on the subject. The hair light is the only source of light that will create a sort of halo around the subject. Since there is no light falling on the face of the subject, the subject will be thrown into complete darkness. Set up the camera in manual mode. Use spot metering and meter for the brightest part in your frame. Use back button focusing or manual focusing to focus on the subject and start the shoot. We can see that there is absolutely no light on the subject and hence we can call this silhouette a perfect silhouette. You can also use the assisted modes in your camera namely the aperture priority and shutter priority modes. In case you want to use the natural light, place the subject between the camera and the window. Make sure that the natural light is coming from behind and there is absolutely no light on the face of the subject. Ask your subject to give a side profile pose in order to get the features prominently. Shoot with similar camera settings to get the perfect silhouette using natural light only.


2) Partial silhouettes:


Partial silhouettes are those silhouettes in which a part of the subject’s face remains in shadow. The rest of it is visible against a bright backlight. Partial silhouettes require a 2 point lighting setup. Switch on the hair or rim light to act as the backlighting. Once this is done, switch on your key light and reduce the intensity of it. This should be bright enough to just light a part of the subject’s face only. The other half should be in shadow. If you are not willing to use a 2 point lighting setup, you may use a reflector and keep it in front of the subject. This reflector should be able to reflect a part of the hair light back on to the face of the subject at such an angle that only half of his face gets illuminated. These are mainly used to create a feeling of suspense. You can also use the natural light coming in from the window to create the same sort of silhouette. If the light coming in is not too bright you may have to use an artificial lighting source as your key light. The camera settings remain almost similar to those used in perfect silhouettes. Analyze what amount of depth of field is required in your portrait and select the aperture. It can be around f/3.5. Use a shutter speed that the camera permits. The ISO should be kept at a minimum. In case you are using the aperture priority mode, use spot metering and expose for the bright light behind. The focusing has to be done either manually or by using the back button since the center focusing point has to be kept on the bright light behind, for exposure.


3) Contrasting silhouettes:


This is perhaps the most interesting kind of silhouette. In this case, we have more than one subject. The subject in front is kept in complete darkness (perfect silhouette) while the subject behind is illuminated properly thereby introducing the conflict that led to naming this kind of silhouettes as contrasting silhouettes. To have the first subject in darkness, we need the hair light to be placed in between the two subjects. There must be a proper 3 point lighting setup for the subject behind. Use the side face of the subject in front in order to highlight the features of the face. Obviously this will depend on the story that you want to portray. Contrasting silhouettes are mostly used in suspense movies. These are really useful storytelling images that can be used to depict a lot of scenes in one’s life. Coming to camera settings, the aperture needs to be set in such a way that both the subjects remain in sharp focus. You may need a smaller aperture for the same. The shutter speed will depend on the motion involved in the frame. Use evaluative metering to analyze the lighting of the whole scene. As a result of this, the camera may try to brighten up the face of the foreground subject. That can be undone easily in post-processing. Contrasting silhouettes may require a lot of time to shoot since the lighting setups have to be done perfectly. The most crucial part is to make sure that there is absolutely light falling on the face of the subject in front. That may ruin your image completely.


We have now seen the different kinds of silhouettes we can shoot. Each has got its own significance, own set of camera settings and lighting setups. Once you understand the concepts of studio lighting you should be comfortable with the idea of silhouettes. Try experimenting with a single source of natural light initially and then increase the number of artificial lights as you move ahead in your silhouette game!

Portrait Photography Indoor Photography Low Light Photography
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