Silhouette photos can be very powerful at communicating a strong subject/story and a fantastic way to experiment shooting a different technique and extending your photo editing capabilities. It is one of my go to techniques, when I find myself in a creative rut and find myself photographing the same thing over and over!
Silhouettes convey mystery, drama and can make a strong emotional connection - because it breaks the image down into a simple, distraction-free story that is easy for us viewers to interpret. The absence of detail, allows our imagination to jump in and transport ourselves to that moment or location.
Smartphone camera specific tips:
1. Tap the screen on the brightest part of the image and swipe down on iPhones or to the left on some Android smartphones to further enhance silhouette photos
2. If the outside of the subject is blurry and you do not have that crisp edge - tap and hold your finger on the subject for two seconds. When AE/AF flashes and remains - then swipe down
3. Some Androids may not have an exposure slider or have the feature disabled when focus tracking is turned on in the settings or using Pro mode. If you do not have an exposure slider - go into advanced settings and adjust the ISO to achieve the desired look
4. Some Android smartphones have manual metering modes. These select what sections of the scene to balance the light and dark areas. Select spot metering and tap on the brightest part of the image to make the subject darker
5. Capture movement images by using the burst mode or Live Photos to go back and select your perfectly timed image. Learn more about Live Photos here
6. If you taking a photo in close - you may need to turn off your flash to avoid it brightening your subject
Selecting subjects for silhouette photos
7. Locate a subject that has strong, instantly recognisable shape and lines
8. When trying to identify opportunities for silhouette photos - concentrate on the outline of subjects
9. Photos of people jumping can look stunning as a silhouette. Get down low to make it look like a higher jump and use burst or Live Photo to capture the best posture and timings
10. Silhouette photos do not need to be completely black. Darkening the subject to remove just enough detail, can still create mystery and direct the viewer’s attention
11. People holding hands looks better as a silhouette if you have them stand further apart to create more seperation and the extended arms stand out more
Choosing indoor, outdoor locations
12. The background needs to be brighter than the subject
13. Silhouette photos can also be captured indoors - in front of a bright window or artificial light
14. Locate a subject and background - where the subject can be isolated and have space around them
15. Silhouette photos taken from a low angle are not only more interesting as a quick technique - it will also help isolate the subject, by including more bright sky
16. Shooting early in the morning or late afternoon (golden hour) makes it easier to position the sun behind the subject
17. Minimise background clutter to make the silhouette the main subject in the story
18. When you darken an image - the shapes and lines (textures) of clouds become more evident. Soft, sweeping clouds can look amazing, contrasted against a sharp, strong silhouette
19. Having the edge of the sun, poke out on the edge of the subject can create really aesthetically pleasing sun flare
20. A reflection of your silhouette can double the effect and make it stand out even further
The above collage of silhouette photos were shared in our amazingly supportive, learning community. Each week, we have a new theme to encourage us to practise new skills, techniques and share our passion for photography captured and edited on our smartphones. This silhouette photos theme was a popular week.
Photo editing gorgeous silhouette photos
21. Converting a normal photo into a silhouette, can be a fantastic way of recovering a bad photo. You may have a really distracting element in the photo or awkward facial expression that detracts from an otherwise great image. The basic principles of a silhouette outlined above still apply to create a great silhouette
22. Darkening the shadows will darken the subject further. It will however, adjust the whole image darkening any shadows in the background also. Selectively darken the subject further using Snapseed photo editing app:
- Selective Tool > add a pin to the subject > pinch and zoom to increase/decrease the selection size > swipe up and down to Brightness > swipe left to darken
- Brush Tool > select Dodge and Burn > Tap the down arrow to decrease the number to -5 or -10 > finger paint over the subject. Too much or you go over the lines - change the number to 0, becomes an eraser. Tap on the Mask icon to see where you have been selecting.
23. One thing I love about silhouette photos, is the contrast and sharp outlines. Sharpen your image by using Details in Snapseed or the Tonal Contrast filter
24. When you are emphasising shapes and lines in this type of image - a crooked image or warped walls (lens distortion) can become more evident. I like to straighten my images in Snapseed using Perspective - not Rotate. To correct any lens distortion, I try Free mode in Perspective within Snapseed. If that does not work, my go-to app is SKRWT
25. Adding a little extra warmth to a silhouette captured in the ‘golden hour’ when the light already has an orange colour cast - can really add to the mood of a silhouette. Access this in the White Balance or Colour Cast in your favourite photo editor. One direction will turn blue and the other orange
26. Enhancing colours can make a silhouette really jump off the screen. Most photo editing apps have a Saturation slider. In Snapseed, go to Tools > Tune Image > Adjust > Saturation
27. Add a sun flare on the edge of the subject. Picsart or Lens Flare (iOS) are two great apps
28. Remove distracting elements in the silhouette by using Retouch app. Open image > Quick Repair > swipe over the object. For more precise removal - use the Clone Stamp
29. Converting to black and white can create a real emphasis on the silhouette. Snapseed have a built in Look (iOS) or Style (Android) named ‘Silhouette’
30. Get inspired by checking out @silhouette_creative on Instagram
These articles are great to learn a specific technique or tip. The fastest transition to becoming a confident and creative smartphone photographer is this course. Check out the full benefits and curriculum here.