Nine Tips to Create a Killer Silhouette

Southern California photography team Brett and Tori love shooting silhouettes and over the years have picked up some simple tips that help them nail killer shots time and time again. Read on to discover 9 of their great tips you can use on your next shoot and see some of the beautiful silhouettes shot by Brett and Tori. 

Silhouettes always catch my eye because they leave part of the image up for interpretation. Unable to see all the detail it makes you wonder about the faces, the expressions and all the details hidden in the shadows. They are intriguing and not to difficult to master. Studying Brett and Tori's images below and applying the useful tips they offer you will be armed ready to create some jaw dropping silhouettes of your own on your next shoot.

Tip 1. SEPARATION - First things first. Probably the MOST important thing to know when attempting a silhouette is separation. Your subject MUST stand out from the background for a silhouette to work. Contrast is huge, that’s why in most of our silhouettes, you’ll see our subjects placed in front of an open sky, usually with the sun somewhere behind them. This makes it much easier to pull off a true silhouette.

Tip 2. POSE - Once you’ve found a good location that separates your subjects from the background, posing becomes the next thing we look to. Since silhouettes are just black shapes, it’s important to position your subjects in a way that you can see their features. This makes it obvious to viewers what they are looking at. We typically have our couples kiss, but in slow motion. That way we can capture that moment RIGHT before their lips meet, which still allows their profiles to be seen. Once the subjects lose the separation from each other, it becomes just one big black blob.

Tip 3. COMPOSITION - In the shot above, there was a perfect area for our subjects to stand. Your eye tends to go straight to the couple because the two big trees lead right to them, and the rest of the scene is dominated by very detailed lines, so the contour of their bodies stand out even more. I also framed this photo using the rule of thirds, which is naturally more pleasing to the eye.

Tip 4. TIMING - The best time of day for a silhouette is around sunset. This provides many more opportunities. If there’s awesome clouds in the sky like those in the photo above, even better! The setting sun turns those clouds that beautiful orange color and adds to the overall appeal of the image.

Tip 5. DEPTH OF FIELD – I usually will set my aperture to f/8 or higher to add more detail to the photo, but in some cases, like the image above, I will decrease the depth of field so the objects in the foreground become less distracting.

Tip 6. ANGLE - In the photo above, I made sure to get super low to the ground in order to change my angle so the couple was high above the hill line. If I would have shot this from a standing position, only their heads would have been higher than the black horizon line and it wouldn’t have worked out as nicely as it did.

Tip 7. RIM LIGHT - In some situations, I’m not able to place the couple above the horizon line (which would make the bright sky the backdrop) or there are just too many obstacles. In this case, I really wanted all the trees in the shot, so I had Tori squat behind the subjects and hold a flash with an off-camera trigger attached to it. This creates an awesome rim light around the couple and separates them from the dark tree behind them.

Tip 8. WIDE ANGLE LENS - Using a wide angle lens for silhouettes is my favorite! It gives a better perspective to our subject’s surroundings. If I wasn’t using a wide angle lens in the photo above, the viewer wouldn’t be able to get a feeling of how big the trees were compared to the couple, taking away some of the dramatic feel from the image. And once again, I saw an opening in the trees that I knew would be a perfect spot to place our subjects, so I had them walk slowly across the scene while I waited for the right moment. They stand out even more because their shape is so different than their surroundings, allowing the viewer’s attention to move straight to the couple.

Tip 9. BACKGROUND - Here’s a good example of using something other than the sky to separate the subjects from the background. From where we were standing, the sun was creating a beautiful light across the lake. In this case, it was bright enough to create enough contrast to make for a nice silhouette.

Want to see more? Go check out Brett and Tori's blog post about silhouettes. You can also visit their website to see more of their work. Thanks Brett and Tori for the great tips. Looking forward to putting them in practice on my next shoot.

Log in or register to post comments
Matt Kennedy's picture

Fantastic work and write up Brett!

awesome!! Loved this! 

 This is so great!!! Such simple and easy to understand tips, and so true! Awesome write up Brett! :)

Good tips, cheers.

great tips! Thanks Brett!!

apercep's picture

Great article.. This is what Fstoppers should have more of.. 

Chuck Navarro's picture

Bride Groom Wagon Wheels......EPIC Shot!  Great article!