Photo Tip: Silhouette for Effect

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Over the years, I have learned a lot about photography and how to create great images in tough situations from the tried and true approach of shooting a lot and learning from experience, but also from reading insights and ideas from other great photographers and implementing their strategies into my own work and bag of tricks. (One of my greatest inspirations was the late, great Galen Rowell's book Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography. This, in my opinion, is a must read for anyone who plans to shoot outdoors and wants good results…in short, it is a must for 99.99% of people who own a camera!)

So, with that in mind, I have decided to post occasional tips and tricks that I have learned over the years…Hopefully these will prove fun for you as you go out and create images and will help you make better pictures in less time.

Inraj1934_1 The tip this time around is using silhouette for effect:

Often when I am shooting people, I want to convey a specific emotion, feeling, or concept. However, that is often difficult to do when people's faces, clothing, or appearance can give the viewer a different feeling or meaning. The solution: try silhouetting the subject.

It is simple to do, whether you are using a state-of-the-art digital SLR or a simple point-and-shoot camera. Just position your subject between you and the sun (or other significant light source), compose, and shoot away. Wait, no, it's not that simple.

Most cameras have very smart metering systems, but not smart enough to know when you want a dark subject and a bright background. So, you have to trick the camera. Try this:

  1. Disable your flash: You want your subject black, a silhouette, not lightened by your flash. Turn it off!
  2. Trick your meter: Compose the photograph with only the bright background filling the frame. Push down halfway on the shutter button – on most cameras, this will "lock" the exposure. With the shutter button still depressed half way, recompose your photograph with the subject and light source in it.
  3. Push the shutter button all the way and – bingo – you should have a nice silhouette!

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This may take a bit of trial and error depending on the camera you are using and the setting. But, if you are shooting digital, you can easily check the image and exposure and see if you nailed the shot!

Playing around with silhouettes is one way to create meaning and power in your photographs and a sense of anonymity which allows your viewer to extract the meaning they seek.

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