Beyond Just Skies…Tips for Creating Impactful Silhouettes

April 5, 2016

Who doesn’t love a gorgeous silhouette image?  They fit right in line with my own personal photography goals – colorful, impactful, and unique.  Today I am sharing with you five tips to help you create and improve your silhouette images.

For sky silhouettes:

1.) Choose your location wisely.  Ideally you want to have a wide open space where you have a clear and unobstructed view of the sky.  If there are  trees, bushes, buildings, etc then make sure they add to your image and not distract from your subject or cause an unintended scale issue. The area directly behind your subject must be clear from any other elements except your light source. I prefer to have my subjects above me somehow – so positioned on a slight hill or incline.  I am usually at the base of the hill and lying on the ground to exaggerate the the height (but here in Dallas we are pretty flat, so you might not have that problem where you are!).

In both photographs below, my subjects were at a higher elevation than I was.  This helped make sure that distracting background elements were out of view.

desert_cactus_silhouette silhouette_boy_bicycle

2.) Not all sunrises/sunsets are equal.  Obviously a colorful sunset with a bounty of clouds is preferred over a dull cloudless sunset, but don’t fret if there isn’t too much visual interest in the sky.  In the instance below, I used the sun to help add more drama to an otherwise ho-hum sunset.


3.) Set your exposure based on the brightest part of your light source.  Doing this will cause your subject to be black, or very nearly so.  I usually shoot with a wide lens (35mm or below). For settings I typically shoot at F11 or higher and ISO at 200 or below.


4.) Position your subjects carefully.  If you place them all smooshed together, then your result will be one big black blob.  I generally ask that my subjects have space between them and have them arms and legs bent. Also, if you are crouched low, be sure to not be so low to the ground that grass on the ground is “chopping off” their legs.

The images below were taken about 4 hours prior to sunset.  I was able to achieve a silhouette because a mountain behind me was casting a large shadow. The SOOC raw image on the left did not work because my husband and son were too close together.  I preferred the image on the right because my husband was standing up and you could see the definition of his arms and legs clearly.


This image, however, happened to be my favorite.  By moving over a feet feet I was able to capture his silhouette against the mountains, which is more visually interesting.



This leads me to part two:  Silhouettes Aren’t Limited to Skies! You can capture them at any time of day, you just have to have the right lighting conditions. Typically I do this with either water, a semi-transparent object (such as a sheer window curtain, camping tent, etc) , or a single light source that is “contained” in some way.

Water is a natural reflector and is perfect for blue hour silhouettes.


Here is an example of “contained light.” The large light source of the sun combined with the walls on either side of my subject created a directional light that was perfect for a silhouette. The settings for both images were ISO200, f5.0, and 1/1250sec (35mm lens).

Dallas Fort Worth silhouette



And, finally, here is some more creative inspiration for you – proving that skies aren’t the only ways to capture a beautiful silhouette!

Bella Jewel Photography

jeaninephelps1 jeaninephelps2-2

Jen Faith Brown Photography


Kylie Crump Photography


Lindsey Rabon Photography


Regan Mort Photography


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