Thursday Tips, or Photography According To Lauren: #6 Silhouettes

Last week I talked about how to meter for an even exposure in most lighting situations. This week I thought I’d talk about how to create silhouettes. Silhouettes can be great for playing around with shapes, and for showing off details in the sky. If you’ve got a really great sunset, or a deep blue sky, or some scattered clouds – it might be time to whip out the silhouette action.

Creating silhouettes is actually really easy, and understanding how to make them can help you with your understanding of both composition and exposure. First you need your background. This can either be the sky, or some buildings, or what have you. The most important this is that there needs to be more light on the background than there is on whatever it is that you’re silhouetting.

Then you’re going to want to expose for the background. So instead of  metering for your hand like we talked about last week, meter for the sky or whatever is going to be behind your silhouette.

You might want to play around with it. You can expose your sky at middle grey, but sometimes it’s nice to go 2-3 stops above middle grey so you still get a bit of detail in your scene. If you’re shooting digitally you can just check out the results on the back of your camera, but if you’re shooting film it’s always good to bracket.

Bracketing is when you take the same picture at slightly different exposures to ensure that you get the best possible exposure. So I might start by taking a picture at f/4 ; 1/60th of a second, and then I’ll try it at f/4 ; 1/125th of a second (which would be slightly darker because the shutter is open for less then half the amount time). Then I might also try f/2.8 1/60th (which would be slightly ligher than my original exposure because I have opened up my aperture to let in more light). All of these exposures will be slightly different, but hopefully one of them will render the perfect combination of lights, shadows, and middle greys that I’m looking for.

Another thing to keep in mind when you’re creating a silhouette is that whatever you’re silhouetting should have a very distinctive shape. Pictures of people kissing doesn’t often work well for silhouettes because you loose definition & detail in their faces, so if their heads are pressed together they sort of just look like a two headed blob. The moment just before or after a kiss is perfect because you still get the romance, while also retaining the distinctive shape of each person.
Finally silhouettes are good for playing around with framing. Notice how in every single one of these pictures I have framed my subject with a window, or buildings, or trees. This helps to make my silhouettes more interesting and give them more distinction. It’s important to get the framing of your silhouette right because if it’s off the subject of your silhouette will just blend into whatever you’re framing it with and then you’ll just have a picture of some black blobs agains a pretty sky.
I hope that helps to explain silhouettes and gets you thinking about ways to be creative with exposure. As you can see I’m awfully fond of a good silhouette. As always feel free to ask me any questions that  you might have in the comments. Also I’d like to point out that the first picture in this post is from a recent shoot that I did with my friend Kiara. I’m so so so excited about it. Stay tuned for what I think is going to have to be my first ever two-part post on that next week.
Now for this week’s links of awesome:
I found the awesomest, most comprehensive photography blog ever. I want to take a vacation just so I can spend two week reading everything on there. Today they posted an hour long video on Henri Cartier-Bresson!?!? I die.
Check out the Black Harbor Collective. They do interesting work and post stuff about both design and photography. I’ve been inhaling everything they post.
Did you see this photography project based on a by Ulrika Kestere? It’s so beautiful and oh man how I wish I had thought of something like it.
You gotta check out this guy’s tumblr. 95% of what he posts is magic.
Posted in: Film, Hasselblad, Nikon, Photo Tips

One Comment

  1. Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Did I not comment on this? There are some silhouettes in my latest posts – I’ve been practising. :)