How to photograph silhouettes

How to photograph silhouettes


When photographing subjects against a bright background, such as a sunset, you’d probably use your flash to help lighten your subject. But there are times when making your subject appear featureless, apart from the outline, will convey more mystery, drama and mood to your image, we’re talking silhouettes.

© A Webber

The image above was taken at sunset, by metering for the bright sky in the background the oak tree stands out  clear and sharp in silhouette.


When composing a photograph for a silhouette shot, you’re looking for crisp, sharp detail. Choose  subjects that will stand out with clear recognizable shapes, the subject matter could be anything: animals, birds, trees and plants, architecture and, of course, people. Try not to clutter your image with too many overlapping shapes as that could lead to a confusing image. If you’re photographing several people at once, try keeping each person separate and clearly outlined, and if you photograph them in profile, their features will be more distinct for a more recognizable shot.

© A Webber

The image above shows two walkers on the beach. I hadn’t planned for them to be in silhouette, I just wanted some foreground interest, but as the sea and sky was very bright, that’s exactly how they came out; in silhouette.

 No flash

If you’re shooting in auto mode, your cameras flash may pop-up, so make sure you switch it off, otherwise it will just defeat the objective; you want a bright background with your subject lit from behind.

© A Webber

In the image above the Para glider was disappearing into the sunset; a good chance to snap him in silhouette.

Light reading

Depending on what camera you have, take a meter reading from the bright background by pressing your shutter down halfway then recompose your shot on your subject and press the shutter down all the way, this should make your subject under exposed and appear in silhouette, but, the problem is, if you shoot in auto mode your camera may find it difficult to focus properly on a dark shape, to remedy this either use a high f/stop (small aperture)  to increase your depth of field; this will help to keep the foreground and background sharp, or, focus using manual mode.

A great image above by  Public Domain Photos  of someone standing in profile against a sunset.

Here’s some more striking images of silhouettes:


A simple but striking shot of a ”methane pipeline” by Kaibara87

Another great silhouette by keepwaddling1

This silhouette of some Cranes in flight is awesome, Image by me’nthedogs

Another great shot from me’nthedogs

No mistaking these little critters, love this shot. Image by Chris Samuel

A perfectly captured silhouette of  the Arizona state fair  by Kevin Dooley

Taken in Cincinnati- Spring grove cemetary & Arboretum of a swan in silhouette. Image by David Paul Ohmer

A perfect example of  ‘less is more’ Image by Kansasphoto

No mistaking what this guy’s doing- a clearly outlined silhouette such as this one tells the whole story. Image by Mike Baird

Another perfect example of a silhouette. Image by JD Photography

Stunning shot of a Curlew in silhouette. Image by Mike Baird






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*Featured image ‘Bird watcher’ © A Webber