Sunday, 10 November 2013

Silhouette Photography

Silhouette Photography
by Kathy


Today we are looking at how to take Sillouette photos.  

The definition of a silouette is: A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single colour, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the whole is typically presented on a light background, usually white, or none at all. The silhouette differs from an outline which depicts the edge of an object in a linear form, while a silhouette appears as a solid shape. Silhouette images may be created in any visual artistic media,[1] but the term normally describes pieces of cut paper, which were then stuck to a backing in a contrasting colour, and often framed.


From its original graphic meaning, the term "silhouette" has been extended to describe the sight or representation of a person, object or scene that is backlit, and appears dark against a lighter background. Anything that appears this way, for example, a figure standing backlit in a doorway, may be described as "in silhouette". Because a silhouette emphasises the outline, the word has also been used in the fields of fashion and fitness to describe the shape of a person's body or the shape created by wearing clothing of a particular style or period.


A great photograph is no different than any other work of art, in that it should elicit emotion and engage viewers. A great way to engage the viewer of a photograph and encourage them to interpret the image is by utilizing silhouettes. Silhouettes Engage Viewers The reason silhouettes are so engaging is because they are so open to interpretation. Think of a silhouette of a man sitting alone on a park bench at sunset. Is he sad and lonely because his wife has passed? Is he relaxed and content? Has he finally achieved an important goal in life? Is he anxious about how much longer he will live, and whether his loved ones will be cared for? Are there religious overtones? The photographer may have all or none of these themes in mind when creating this image. The interpretation is dictated by the individual viewer’s mindset. The viewer subconsciously projects her own hopes, fears, and mood onto the silhouette. The reason for this is simple. Your brain is constantly working to fill in the details of what it doesn’t know. In a photo such as this, the silhouette provides a great unknown which we cannot help but interpret.




A great photograph is no different than any other work of art, in that it should elicit emotion and engage viewers. A great way to engage the viewer of a photograph and encourage them to interpret the image is by utilizing silhouettes. Silhouettes Engage Viewers The reason silhouettes are so engaging is because they are so open to interpretation. Think of a silhouette of a man sitting alone on a park bench at sunset. Is he sad and lonely because his wife has passed? Is he relaxed and content? Has he finally achieved an important goal in life? Is he anxious about how much longer he will live, and whether his loved ones will be cared for? Are there religious overtones? The photographer may have all or none of these themes in mind when creating this image. The interpretation is dictated by the individual viewer’s mindset. The viewer subconsciously projects her own hopes, fears, and mood onto the silhouette. The reason for this is simple. Your brain is constantly working to fill in the details of what it doesn’t know. In a photo such as this, the silhouette provides a great unknown which we cannot help but interpret.




Silhouettes are all about emphasizing the shape of your subject, so when you’re looking for something to photograph as a silhouette, concentrate on shape: is the subject well balanced? can you tell what it is just by its shape? Sometimes the things that look boring during the day will make great subjects for silhouettes, so focus on the subject’s form and structure–that’s what you’re trying to capture with a silhouette.



Choose a good subject that you want to be blacked out or in silhouette. Make sure the subject that you choose has a strong and clear outline that will be interesting enough in its two dimensional form to hold the interest of those viewing your image.  Almost any object can be made into a silhouette; however some are better than others. Silhouettes can’t draw on the colours, textures and tones of subjects to make them appealing – so the shape needs to be distinct. Silhouettes work great for a variety of subjects: people, plants, and even big piles of rocks.





Light
When it comes to lighting your subject you’ll need to throw out a lot of what you’ve learnt about normal photography and think a little backwards. Instead of lighting the front of your subject, in silhouettes you need to ensure that there is more light shining from the background than the foreground of your shot – or to put it another way – you want to light the back of your subject rather than the front. The perfect light for this is placing your subject in front of a sunset or sunrise – but really any bright light will be able to do the trick.



Find your subject well before sunrise or sunset. Since the colours change so quickly during sunrise and sunset, it’s a good idea to scout out your subject well ahead of time, so you’re prepared for the most dramatic colours. Plan on being in place and having everything set up at least a half hour before sunrise or sunset, and be prepared to stay at least a half hour after sunrise or sunset. It’s extremely difficult to predict when the most dramatic colours will occur, so it’s good to be there for the entire show.





Exposure
Right exposure is equal to good silhouette photography. If you are in doubt with the exposure, adjust the exposure of the camera you are using. Shooting in different angles also will help in getting the right exposure. Most modern digital cameras have automatic metering which are pretty good at sensing how to expose a photograph so that everything is well lit. The problem with this is that most cameras are so smart that they will light up your subject instead of underexposing it to get a silhouette so you need to trick it. Most cameras work out the exposure levels in auto mode when you push your shutter half way down (at the same time that they focus). So point your camera at the brightest part of your picture and then press the shutter halfway down (don’t let go). Then move your camera back to frame your shot with the subject where you want it and then finish taking the shot. With most digital cameras this will result in a silhouetted subject. In effect what you’re doing is tricking your camera into thinking that the bright part of the image is the mid tone of it so that anything darker than it will be exposed as a nice dark shadow. 



Some digital cameras also have ‘spot’ or ‘centered’ metering modes that you can switch on which helps with the above technique as they will set the metering on the central spot of your frame rather than multiple spots. This means you can accurately tell your camera exactly which bit of the bright background you want it to set the exposure on.



7. Manual Mode

If this technique doesn’t work and your camera has controls to allow manual exposure or exposure compensation you might like to try some of your own settings. The beauty of digital is that you can experiment to your heart’s content until you get the result you’re after.
A simple way to start using manual mode is to look at the shutter speed and aperture that it suggests in automatic mode and to start from there. If in auto mode your subject is too light (ie you need to make it darker) stop down the shutter speed a stop or two and see what impact that has. Use the ‘bracketing’ technique that I described in my previous tip on sunrises and sunsets to get a variety of shots at slightly different exposures.
The other strategy is to use Aperture to maximize your depth of field (the amount of your image that is in focus). Set a small aperture (ie a larger number) to increase the depth of field – this means you’re more likely to have a sharper foreground and background in your shots.



Posing
Keep your photos as simple as possible. Put your subject where it will stand out from the rest of the objects on the background. Frame your shot so you are shooting with your subject in front of a nice plain, but bright background. Usually the best backgrounds will be a bright cloudless sky with the sun setting.  If you are shooting a person or a group of people, it can help if they will pose in a position that the whole outline of the body will be captured well in details.



If there is more than one shape or object in the image that you’re attempting to silhouette, try to keep them separated. ie if you are silhouetting a tree and a person don’t have the person stand in front of the tree or even leaning on it as it will merge them into one shape and as a result your viewers could be confused about what the shape is.



While a total silhouette with a nice crisp and black subject can be a powerful shot, also consider the partial silhouette or profile where some detail of your subject is left. This means that more of their features (nose, mouth, eyes) are outlined and they are more likely to be recognized.



Sometimes a touch of light on them makes them slightly more three dimensional and ‘real’. This is the beauty of bracketing your shots as it will leave you with total and partial silhouettes to choose form.
As an example, let’s describe how we would best set up a shot of a silhouetted woman standing alone on a beach at sunset. Sunlight will be our only source of light, and it will be coming from behind the subject. We will not be utilizing any reflectors or fill flash. Aperture and Selective Focus First, focus the camera on the woman. We want the outline of her silhouette to be crisp and in perfect focus. I recommend using a large aperture opening, specifically f8 or higher. The reason for this is we want the background sunset and ocean to be in good focus too. With the sun just above the ocean horizon, point the camera at the sky just to the side of the sun. Keeping your aperture as you set it, adjust the shutter speed until your exposure is correct. You may need a long exposure time. Therefore it is good practice have a tripod on hand to keep the camera steady. Fire off a few shots and check the image on your LCD screen. If you used all the correct settings, you should have a perfectly exposed ocean sunset with your subject rendered as a black silhouette. Halos and Silhouettes You can render your silhouette with an interesting halo effect around her. If you desire this effect, move the subject directly in front of the setting sun. This will create a glow, or halo which will further enhance your subject. Such an effect will obviously influence the viewer’s interpretation of your silhouette.



Further Reading: