Simply put, a silhouette refers to the image of a person, animal, object or scene that is represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black. Silhouette images have their edges matching the outline of the subject. A wonderful way to convey drama, mystery, emotion, and mood to the viewers of your photos is through silhouettes.

Silhouettes often stand out when viewed with other images. They are outstanding in an album simply because of the combination of their simplicity and the story they tell. Another intriguing thing about them is that they do not give a viewer a clear picture of everything. They leave part of the image to the imagination of the viewer.

The basic strategy for shooting silhouettes is to place your subject in front of a light source. You then force your camera to set its exposure based on the brightest part of your picture. Usually, that is the background and not the subject of your image. By doing this, your subject will be underexposed rendering it very dark if not black.

So How Do You Compose Silhouettes?

Choose A Strong Subject

First, you select a strong subject. Although almost any object can be made into a silhouette, some are better than others. For your silhouette, pick something with a strong and easily recognizable shape that will still be interesting enough in a two-dimensional form to hold the interest of those viewing your image. Silhouettes bank on their shape to appeal to people so the shape has to be distinct.

Get Your Light Right

When shooting silhouettes, you will have to do away with a lot of things you’ve learned previously about photography and think a little backward. Unlike the norm in photography, when shooting silhouettes, you have to ensure that more light is shining from the background than from the foreground.

Simply put, you want to light the back of your subject rather than the front. Placing your subject in front of sunset or sunrise is perfect but then any bright light will be able to do the trick.

Frame Your Image

You should frame your shot in such a way that you are shooting with your subject in front of a nice, plain, but bright background. Usually, the best backgrounds for silhouettes will be a bright cloudless sky with the sun setting. Position your subject so that the brightest light source is behind the subject.

Shoot High Contrast Black And White To preview silhouette On Your LCD Screen

You can preview your silhouette on your LCD screen when shooting in high contrast JPEG. Likewise, you can also use this preview when shooting JPEG+RAW or just RAW provided you are shooting with an LCD screen or using an electronic viewfinder.

Darken The Faces Of Your Subjects

You can achieve more dramatic silhouettes by darkening the faces of your subjects. You can use Lightroom, Photoshop or any other software to darken the face of your subjects.

Minus-Exposure Compensation

To achieve a better and more dramatic silhouette, set your aperture compensation to negative i.e. -1, -2 or even -3. This will further darken the darker parts of your frame even darker so as to silhouette certain subjects in your frame.

Blur Your Photos

Make use of gaussian blur in to ascertain IG you have a strong silhouette or not. This will help you to determine if you have a good negative space around the head of your subjects, which is quite critical.

Make Silhouetted Shapes Distinct And Uncluttered

In a situation whereby you have more than one shape or object in the image that you are attempting to silhouette, try to keep them separated, for example, if you are silhouetting a tree and a person, ensure that the person does not stand in front of the tree or even lean or not.

Doing either will result in the merger of that two into one shape and will ultimately leave your viewers confused as to what the shape is. When framing your silhouette, you should photograph silhouetted people as profiles rather than looking straight on. That way, more of their features like nose, mouth, and eyes are more likely to be recognized.

Auto Mode

Digital cameras made recently come with automatic metering. They are very good at sensing how to expose a photograph so that everything in it is well lit. This can be a challenge when photographing silhouette because these cameras are so smart. They tend to light up your subject instead of underexposing it to get a silhouette so you have to trick it in order to achieve your aim.

Most modern cameras work out the exposure levels in auto mode when you push your shutter half way down. Hence, the trick here is to point your camera at the brightest part of your picture.  Then press the shutter halfway down but don’t let go. You then move your camera back to frame your shot with the subject where you want it and then finish taking the shot. This will result in a silhouetted subject with most digital cameras.

The idea behind what I explained above is that you are tricking your camera. The camera is thinking that the bright part of the image is the mid-tone of the image. Hence, anything that is darker than it will be exposed as a nice dark shadow. Also, some digital cameras come with the spot or centered metering modes that can help you with the technique explained above when switched on.

When switched on, this mode will set the metering on the central spot of your frame rather than multiple spots. The implication of this is that you can accurately tell your camera exactly the part of the bright background you want it to set the exposure on.

Manual Mode

Sometimes, the above technique does not give you the desired result. This is what to do. If your camera has controls to allow manual exposure or exposure compensation, you may try some settings of your own and experiment till you achieve the desired result. You can start by looking at the shutter speed and aperture suggested by your camera in auto mode.

If the auto mode results in a subject that is too light, you obviously have to make it darker to achieve your goal. So stop down the shutter speed a stop or two and see what happens afterward.


Silhouettes are a great shooting technique to convey drama, mood, mystery, and emotion. This article has opened up on the composition of silhouettes. You can experiment with creating a few of your own.  Experiment by shooting in different lighting situations. You can shoot such late at night or during the day using the minus exposing compensation discussed within this article.

Author: Arinze

A Photography enthusiastic. I work with a group of other professional photographers to provide you tips on photography

About Arinze

A Photography enthusiastic. I work with a group of other professional photographers to provide you tips on photography

View all posts by Arinze →

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