HOW TO SHOOT SILHOUETTES

PHOTO BY ERIKA THORNES

PHOTO BY ERIKA THORNES

When I’m shooting silhouettes I often am belly crawling on the ground. I’m on my hands and knees, trying to keep my camera off the sand, as I shoot at the beach a lot, or off the hard pavement, when around a view spot.

A standard tripod is never going to get me low enough to really capture the scene as I’d like to see it. But, since my silhouettes are often shot at dusk, It is great to have the stability and framing capability of a tripod, yet the height has always deterred me.

PHOTO: ERIKA THORNES

PHOTO: ERIKA THORNES

There are a few key elements that create a successful silhouette. I’ll say it loud and proud.

It is MORE than exposure. Yes, you meter for the sky, yes, that brings the blacks black, but there is so much more to it than that. I used to say, angle, separation, and exposure.

But it is even more than that. You can nail the angle, shooting from down low, you can nail the exposure, and you can even get the separation, but if you aren’t telling a story, or conveying an emotion, you’re not getting it.

There needs to be a story. There needs to be an emotion. If the silhouette doesn’t make you feel, it falls flat. Just something to think about as you’re composing and editing your silhouettes.

Let’s explore that first element: Angle

Angle can create emotion and drama, especially when using clouds and sky with the foreground to create emotion.

Get low – and if you can’t get low enough, get your subjects up higher.

The angle at which a silhouette is shot can make or break the image. A successful silhouette doesn’t cut people off in an unflattering way. Sometimes I see silhouettes that start at the waist, or even start at the feet, but the background is so cluttered that the bottom of the subject gets lost in the junk before the sky.

A successful silhouette doesn’t cut people off in an unflattering way. 

Sometimes I see silhouettes that start at the waist, or even start at the feet, but the background is so cluttered that the bottom of the subject gets lost in the junk before the sky. Getting lower often stops the clutter, bringing the subject higher than the background clutter.

While the author pushes a particular tripod brand and we understand advertising does occur in posts, we feel there are other options for shooting a silhouette at a low angle. Make your own bean bags, or even use a bag of rice or beans from the store. Because we're not shooting long exposure here, the sun is bright enough to catch a sharp image. Go ahead and use a shoe in worst case scenario or LAY ON THE GROUND! Get dirty for the perfect photograph. It's fun. By the way, the brand the author recommends is called Platipodinuse. It's a fine brand, I'm sure. However, we haven't tried it to give it a review.


Erika is a San Diego based photographer with a lot of verve. As a photographer, her goal is to make images her clients will treasure; to still be hung on a family’s walls in 50 years as gifts and heirlooms.As a person, her goal to discover something new each day. Erika loves to share her knowledge, boundless energy, ideas and enthusiasm with her clients, her students and her peers.To learn more, visit Erika's portfolio or blog. Original post appeared here