Shoot a silhouette
What ’s the Big Idea?
Silhouettes can be very evocative. Sunset is the best time to create them, especially if you place your subject against a stunning sky. Our eyes can still see lots of detail in these lighting situations, but a camera sensor can capture a much smaller range of tones – where we might see some detail in a silhouetted subject, the camera will often just see deep, black shadow. Any subject can be used, as long as the shape of the subject is identifiable, and preferably very graphic.
What ’s the Key?
The key to successful silhouettes is backlighting. Place the sun behind the subject or even shoot after the sun has set in order to achieve brilliant colour that will provide an interesting backdrop. Exposure can be a challenge because the camera’s meter may want to underexpose the scene, depending on the ratio of dark to light areas. Generally, you will want to expose for the background. When I shot the fishing boat below, I overexposed by one stop so the sky and reflection wouldn’t look too dark.
If most of your subject lies below the horizon, you run the risk of it merging into the dark tones. An example would be a tree in a field at sunset. If half of the trunk is below the horizon, you will only be able to see the top of the tree, which will look odd. The best way to solve this problem is to get as low as possible and move closer to the tree (using a wide-angle lens if necessary).
You should be able to use a low ISO, such as 100, as the background should be bright enough, and, of course, you should be using a tripod. In most cases, try to use the optimal aperture of f/8 unless you want to include a sunburst, when you need to use an aperture of f/16-f/22.