Tips to create stunning silhouettes
October 15, 2018

Backlit subjects always tend to grab a lot of attention. Perfect back lit shots always leave the viewers with a will to come back for more. Silhouette is a name given to such back lit shots. The back lighting throws the subject in to darkness but the shape remains clearly visible. We have all seen such kind of shots in desert landscapes etc. Silhouettes are highly appreciable and takes a lot of effort to master. Let us take a look at the 5 tips to create stunning silhouettes and then proceed onwards to find out the different kind of silhouettes.


1)  Timing of the day:

The primary requirement for a silhouette is that the background needs to be much brighter than the subjects in the foreground. This is possible during sunrise and sunset since the sun is at a lower angle during these times. If you have such a bright light source behind your subject, the prominence of the silhouette increases. Remember some silhouettes are properly shot during the day time too with the blue sky as backdrop. So you don’t have to always wait for the sunrise or sunset.

2)  Your positioning matters:

Everything in a silhouette will be appearing black. Hence you need to make your shot as much clutter-free as possible. Make sure the background doesn’t have a lot of distracting elements. Once you have got such a frame, ask your subject to stand between you and the light source.

3) The posing techniques:

Silhouettes cannot show the emotions since the faces cannot be seen. The emotions need to be acted out. Think of the kind of emotion you want to depict through your shots. Ask your subjects to perform some sort of acts in order to capture their emotions. If you are shooting a mom and child, ask the mother to lift her child up and look at him. You can then see the profiles of your subjects. This makes you ready to shoot. Try to fill up the frame with as much action as possible in order to make things interesting to watch. If it is a group of friends that you are shooting, you can ask them to jump with their hands above and capture the action. This can look quite attractive

4) Camera settings:

This is the section where all the magic happens. It is always advised to shoot silhouettes in manual mode. However in case you are still not comfortable with the manual mode, you may use the assisted modes with the help of camera metering. Avoid using the fully automatic mode. Take a look at the following settings:

i)  Aperture:

There is no point getting a very shallow depth of field so you can set your aperture at around f/5.6 or f/8 or lower. This will allow you to get a few of the background elements into focus. Since you will be shooting directly at the sun it is better to have a smaller aperture to reduce any chances of chromatic aberration.

ii) Shutter speed:

The shutter speed will depend upon the action involved. If your subjects are still you can afford to shoot at even 1/100th of a second. In case the subjects are in action, go above 1/250th of a second to freeze it.

iii) ISO:

Try to keep the ISO as low as possible. Obviously you can increase it if that becomes the need of the hour. Too much of ISO can lead to noticeable grains in the image since most portions of your image will be dark.

iv)  Metering mode:

Use the spot metering mode to shoot silhouettes. What if I use the spot metering mode and keep the spot on the face of the subject? The camera will meter for the face and expose it properly thereby blowing out the brighter parts of the image. Thus I will not be able to get a silhouette. So the work around to this is to keep the spot on the brightest part of the frame and expose for that. The brightest part will be exposed properly and the rest of the scene will be underexposed thus giving you the perfect backlit effect. Use exposure compensation to override the camera’s metering decision as and whenever required. You can also use the bracketing system of your camera to get a series of shots with different exposures and then select the perfect silhouette.

v) Focusing:

You can use manual focus for shooting silhouettes. In case you are using autofocusing you may want to use the back button focusing method. Since the exposure has to be made for the sky and not the subject, you will require a separate button for the focusing aspect. This is where the back button focusing comes in handy.

5)   Post processing:

This is where the actual silhouette comes alive. Increase the blacks slightly if required. Increase the contrast in order to get the perfect silhouette. Decrease the highlights and don’t disturb the shadows. Post processing skills are required to bring the best out of your silhouettes.

Types of silhouettes:

1)   Perfect silhouette: In this kind of silhouette, the subject is entirely dark against a bright background. Expose for the background in order to get a completely dark foreground.

2)   Partial silhouette: As the name suggests, this kind of a silhouette involves partial lighting of the subject while the rest remains in darkness.

3)   Contrasting silhouette: You need to have more than a subject for this kind of a silhouette. Keep the first subject in perfect silhouette with the second subject just behind it in proper lighting. Contrasting silhouettes may be a little confusing to shoot but they produce the most interesting results.


Silhouettes require a lot of practice to master. With the above set of guidelines, you should be ready to shoot your first silhouette. You will always get opportunities to shoot backlit images. The best place to practice this is in your next beach vacation with your friends or families. Ask them to pose which they gladly will and start shooting all the different types of silhouettes.

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