Photography How-To: Creating Silhouettes

Creating a great silhouette of a scene can be extremely rewarding for any photographer. But if you are a 4X4 enthusiast who spends time in the outback, you can be spoilt for opportunities to create …

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Sep 01 2022
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Creating a great silhouette of a scene can be extremely rewarding for any photographer. But if you are a 4X4 enthusiast who spends time in the outback, you can be spoilt for opportunities to create these amazing images.

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An image of solid shapes which creates something similar to a cut out with the glowing colourful background can be beautiful, but can also tell a story.

If composed correctly, you can create mood and emotion in a stunning image showcasing the subject’s features and outlining what or who they are.

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So why do we use this method? I guess because it looks amazing and it’s your opportunity to create something that’s different with your camera or phone. Something that will make people stop and stare and when captured correctly, it will tell a story.

You are the story teller and the camera is an extension of yourself… This is your chance to tell a story, your way.

There are a number of elements which will make a difference in what you are trying to achieve.

1 – Move the camera

This is extremely important. If you’re standing facing the setting sun and try to create a silhouette of a group of people, you might find that the horizon will cut the people halfway up their body, leaving a black blob and effectively removing half the story in the image.

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How do you fix this? You need to move the camera until it is nearly on the ground to achieve a result which includes the full body of the individuals including the boots and even the shoelaces they are wearing. The more you look in this image, the more you will identify who they are from their outline.

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2 – Focus on the subject

You need a sharp outline of the people in the scene and therefore, you should ensure the focus is on the outline of the individuals. The clouds in the background can be soft and out of focus, but the subject needs to be sharp.

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3 – Look for the profiles

If you take a little time with this, by turning the individuals faces slightly, you might be able to see their distinguishing features. Their nose, chin, hairline etc… the way they fold their arms or carry themselves. If you can ask them to rotate themselves slightly, you might find that angle which shows exactly who they really are.

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Location Photography by Offroad Images © 2011

4 – Warm up your white balance

This is actually quite simple. Change the white balance from the auto setting to a warmer colour to encourage the warm sunset and sunrise tones.

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5 – Exposure compensation

In order to capture the setting sun with its vibrant colours, you will need to adjust the cameras exposure to effectively tell the camera to darken the shot. This is done through “exposure compensation” and is quite simple but different from one camera to another. So I will let you figure the details out for your camera of choice.

I guess the number one thing here is to take control of the camera. Don’t let it tell you what to do. So if you point a camera towards a black space, it’ll try to make it grey. Whilst at the same time, if you point a camera at a white space, it’ll try to make it grey. So when you point your camera towards a dark shadowed subject, the camera will want to grey things out as it believes you will need to overexpose the subject. This in turn will create the background sunset to appear washed out in colour and depth. But you are wanting the setting sun to be deep and rich in colour and at the same time, you want the subject to be almost black to assist the silhouette characteristic.

You can actually achieve this on your iPhone. By selecting and holding on your finger on the edge of the people in your silhouette scene, drag down on the screen and the exposure will darken creating the look you are after.

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6 – Composition and balance

Here you will need to look at all these solid images and try to balance them out. My tip is to ensure that you don’t end up with a solid black blob down in the base of the frame. I call this the “big black blob”. The base or horizon should create a framing of the image and not overpower it.

I feel that practising this result can be a lot of fun and extremely rewarding for everyone involved.

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Go to the trouble of having a go at this next time you are watching the sunrise or sunset. It’s a lot of fun.

– Michael Ellem…

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As 4X4 enthusiasts who live for the opportunity to create awesome imagery anywhere in Australia, we know that our vehicle assets are covered wherever we travel to create that shot, as we are insured by Club 4X4.

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