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Posted 4/13/2010 by lollydohbird in General Photography


PeaNut 317,288
May 2007
Posts: 3,896
Layouts: 203
Loc: Calgary, Alberta

Posted: 4/13/2010 2:14:11 AM
First of all let me apologize for the 'blank' posts with the same title. I was getting some error messages while trying to post this, and then a blank post would show up on the board. Hopefully we are in business now.

Once again, it's a pleasure & a privilege to be participating in the two peas classroom. Let me start off by saying that I love silhouettes! They are some of my ABSOLUTE favorites to shoot because they can be some of the most moving and dramatic shots. And, if you get your settings right, they require little to no processing after the fact depending on your vision. I did try to shrink down my sample images, but technology doesn't seem to be on my side tonight (as in IT'S NOT AT ALL COOPERATING WITH ME AT 1am), so I'm afraid you may have to scroll over to see some of them. I'm sorry. Some are old, some are new, but all the photos are in some form a silhouette.

So...the basic setup for a silhouette is to place your subject (the person or shape you want to black out in the foreground) in front of of a light source. If you are at all familiar with metering, than silhouettes can be a walk in the park. Learning to expose for the light source (i.e. the sky, window, or sunset) so the foreground (your subject) is underexposed is the basis of it, but I've noted a few tips to help walk you through the process if this is a new concept for you.

-Choose a strong subject, something well defined and recognizable with little clutter. This can be a person, an object, or anything, really. Your subject is the object/person that will be blacked out in your silhouette photo.

-Place your subject in front of a light source (i.e. a sun set). Set your exposure for the brightest part of your photo and not for the subject of the image. To meter accurately for this, point your camera at the light source, hold your shutter half way down and adjust your settings so that the meter line is in the center. This now means that your exposure is correctly set for the light source/brightest part of your photo, and for your silhouette.

-Turn your flash OFF! Do not illuminate your subject. Normally when shooting against back-lighting you may want to make use of your flash, but in this case since we want the foreground/subject to be dark, we need to ensure we do not use the flash.

-Get the light right. Once you have exposed for the sky/background, take a few shots to ensure your settings are such that you can capture the detail (i.e. for a sunset, make sure you can see light, color, clouds or whatever detail fills the sky).

-Set up/frame your image. Get the setting right, place your subject where you want them and look through your view finder to make sure the shot looks good and your subject is standing/placed where you want it. Try snapping one with your subject in the center, and one with your subject off to the side. Variety is good and it never hurts to have options to choose from.

-Make the shape clear and uncluttered. Ensure there aren't branches standing up directly behind your subject (if it's a person) or that people's heads aren't touching together to the point where you won't be able to tell WHAT your subject is.

-Take the shot. Don;t be afraid to take several at slightly different exposures to make sure you have the shot just how you want it.

-Process it if necessary. Usually with my silhouette shots, I use my Clarify Action and my Lab Color Pop at a mid-level opacity to give it the boost it needs. Then, if my subject isn't quite as blacked out as I want, I will use levels or the burn tool to darken the subject and give it the touch it needs. (I realize not all of these nature shots below are silhouettes but they were a collage in my photobucket, and I'm out of town without my hard drive, so low and behold - you get some extras. ).

So - I know that is pretty basic but I hope it sheds some light on achieving a good silhouette photo. Once again - thanks for tuning in to my post. Please feel free to throw out some questions, and I'd be happy to do my best to answer them. I know there are also other fabulous photographers on this board who will be able to chime in and provide some more good info on this topic.


My Example Photo below:
As you can see from the photo taken by my friend, it's bright enough outside that I would have had no problem getting a properly exposed shot of my kids. But, by metering/exposing for the sky, which was my light source, the children were underexposed, therefore blacking them out.

Here is another example of some silhouettes, but these were done in front of a window in some clients homes. You can see that not all of the foreground is completely blacked out, I did this on purpose because not only did I want to show the clients shape in the silhouette to provide some emotion, but I wanted a tiny bit of detail in there just to personalize it for my client.


PeaNut 397,610
October 2008
Posts: 2,016
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Loc: Alaska

Posted: 4/13/2010 2:29:20 AM
Awesome, thanks Heather! I your work and use your actions all the time.


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PeaNut 26,273
December 2001
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Loc: North Carolina

Posted: 4/13/2010 5:05:13 AM
Thanks Heather. Now to go and try this!


PeaNut 15,356
May 2001
Posts: 4,581
Layouts: 153
Loc: Upstate NY

Posted: 4/13/2010 5:35:56 AM
Thanks Heather! Now all I have to do is wait for the sun to show up around here

My Gear: Nikon D300; Nikon D70s; 50mm 1.8; 85mm 1.8; 18-70 kit lens; 70-300mm; 80-200mm 2.8; Tamron 17-50mm 2.8; SB800 speedlight

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Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal


PeaNut 405,632
January 2009
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Loc: West Virginia

Posted: 4/13/2010 6:15:28 AM
Thank you Heather - excellent instructions and illustrations.


Nikon stuff!

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SJ Photography

PeaNut 311,426
April 2007
Posts: 3,782
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Loc: Michigan

Posted: 4/13/2010 7:06:11 AM
Thank you! I loved reading this and seeing your silhouette photos! They are one of my favorite types of shots to take, too!


Canon 5D, 24-70 mm 2.8, 85 mm 1.8, 50 mm 1.4, 100 mm 2.8

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SJ Photography

PeaNut 311,426
April 2007
Posts: 3,782
Layouts: 7
Loc: Michigan

Posted: 4/13/2010 7:10:00 AM
Oh, I was going to ask about your settings. Aperture, ISO, etc. It seems like I am between f/8 - f/22 for all of my silhouette shots, but while reading what others do, I have found that their aperture is much more wide open than mine. I usually have my ISO on 400 for my silhouettes, too. Just wondering where your settings were for some of these. With f/22, I can get some of the star burst effect, too. And you're right...very little processing with these shots. Another reason I love them! Thanks again for sharing and posting your photos! They are beautiful!


Canon 5D, 24-70 mm 2.8, 85 mm 1.8, 50 mm 1.4, 100 mm 2.8

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PeaNut 429,784
July 2009
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Posted: 4/13/2010 8:06:36 AM
Thank you for this tute. I love it. Cant wait to practise!!

Ok, I have 5000 what?

PeaNut 230,463
November 2005
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Loc: West Virginia Mountains

Posted: 4/13/2010 8:21:33 AM
I'm going to write down some notes and try my hand at silhouettes! Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together for us

Sony A200 DSLR
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro
Sony 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 (kit lens)
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Ancient Ancestor of Pea

PeaNut 100,139
August 2003
Posts: 5,209
Layouts: 0
Loc: Boston, MA

Posted: 4/13/2010 8:22:45 AM
Thanks Heather, this is something totally different than I usually do. It will be fun to just go out and play.

And, I just want to say, this whole Photo Peas Classroom thing, well, it kinda rocks!!

~ Karen


PeaNut 277,100
September 2006
Posts: 1,469
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Loc: st. louis MO

Posted: 4/13/2010 8:29:20 AM
Oh this is so perfectly timed!! I was JUST thinking about how I haven't learned how to do this yet... but now that we get to go to Hawaii next month, I want to LEARN!! And lo and behold, here is your classroom.

THANK YOU!!! I cannot WAIT to play!

Emily S.
Canon 50D | Canon 24-70L | 50mm 1.8 |Speedlight 580exII


PeaNut 430,898
July 2009
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Loc: Tennessee

Posted: 4/13/2010 8:37:01 AM
Thank you for this, I can't wait to give it a try.


PeaNut 169,151
September 2004
Posts: 1,871
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Loc: Southern Louisiana

Posted: 4/13/2010 11:48:00 AM
Thanks for this lesson!!

Your images are amazing!


Thinking Hap-Pea Thoughts

PeaNut 63,394
January 2003
Posts: 8,903
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Loc: Pacific Northwest

Posted: 4/13/2010 12:14:31 PM
What a great lesson, thanks Heather! That silhouette of M and N is one of my all time favorite shots of them Miss you my friend!


I'm a Nikon Girl!
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PeaNut 365,669
March 2008
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Loc: St. Louis, MO

Posted: 4/13/2010 1:02:20 PM
Fabulous tutorial, Heather! Thanks so much for putting it together. It will be fun to try.

Blessings, Rebecca

My gear:
Nikon D700-a dream come true
50mm 1.8
70-200mm (old AF film lens)
Nikon D40-
55-200mm VR
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Close up macro filter set


PeaNut 216,945
July 2005
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Loc: Speeding on the NJTP.

Posted: 4/13/2010 1:05:49 PM
I love silhouettes! Awesome shots, TFS!

Shauna P.G.
Geologists rock!

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Lost and Found in Pea-land

PeaNut 138,098
March 2004
Posts: 6,558
Layouts: 2
Loc: NC but wishing I was somewhere else

Posted: 4/13/2010 1:31:37 PM
This is terrific!!! I've been wanting to learn this technique for so long and had no idea how to do it.

Thanks so much for putting it together.


PeaNut 39,805
June 2002
Posts: 4,325
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Loc: Roy, Utah

Posted: 4/13/2010 2:48:04 PM
This is such a fantastic lesson, Heather! Thank you so much!!


Life in Moments Photography Blog

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For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone. - Audrey Hepburn

Ancient Ancestor of Pea

PeaNut 318,984
May 2007
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Loc: Terre Haute, Indiana {temporarily}

Posted: 4/13/2010 3:09:35 PM
Awesome! Thank you.


Kim M.
"I am the holder of Virgin Superpowers. Really."

PeaNut 73,616
March 2003
Posts: 13,401
Layouts: 254
Loc: Living in Kim's Perfect World

Posted: 4/13/2010 3:12:09 PM
Great lesson, Heather! I'm such a silhouette freak...I try to get at least on from almost every single session! I love your take on these...great job!



PeaNut 246,670
February 2006
Posts: 3,958
Layouts: 19
Loc: Idaho

Posted: 4/13/2010 3:22:21 PM
Awesome Heather! Thanks. You know, I was just thinking last week about wanting to try out some silouette shots. Now I am going to!! Good to see you around here.


Nikon D90 | Nikon 85 mm f/1.8 | Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 | Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 | Tokina 12-24mm f/4 | Tamron 90 mm f/2.8 macro | SB-600 | PSE7 | JoTote!

Steph, the midnight crafter


PeaNut 252,676
March 2006
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Loc: Southern Ohio

Posted: 4/13/2010 4:40:22 PM
Heather, thank you! Great tips for us!


What's in my JoTote:
Sony Alpha 350
Sony VG B30AM Grip
Sony 85 f/1.4
Sony 50 f/1.8
Sony 55-200 f/4
Sony 18-70 f/3.5
Minolta 50 f/1.7
Minolta 70-210 f/4.5
Minolta 35-70 f/3.5
Minolta 2000xi Flash and Minolta 2800af Flash

What's on my computer:
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Lightroom 2.6

Passionate about Peas.

PeaNut 108,530
September 2003
Posts: 12,427
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Loc: Suburbia, New York

Posted: 4/13/2010 4:43:05 PM
Amazing work...tyou for helping explain the process!


PeaNut 395,876
October 2008
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Loc: pacific northwest

Posted: 4/13/2010 6:38:45 PM
Thanks Heather! I've always loved these Cannon Beach silhouettes!


Nikon D300s
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Stacey Anna

PeaNut 90,606
June 2003
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Posted: 4/13/2010 7:16:28 PM
Thank you Heather! You are so sweet!


PeaNut 328,374
July 2007
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Loc: NY

Posted: 4/13/2010 7:26:22 PM
Thanks so much! Can't wait to try it out.


PeaNut 328,374
July 2007
Posts: 48
Layouts: 0
Loc: NY

Posted: 4/13/2010 7:26:22 PM
Thanks so much! Can't wait to try it out.


PeaNut 356,982
January 2008
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Loc: Utah

Posted: 4/13/2010 7:35:59 PM
Awesome post and your examples are beautiful! I want to try with my studio set up now. Silhouette's are some of my faavorites!


Click here to view my blog

In my bag ~
Nikon D700
Nikon D300
Nikon 18-55mm
Nikon 55-200mm
Nikon 50 mm 1.4
Nikon 35 mm 1.8
Nikon SB-600
Nikon SB-900
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On my Computer~
Adobe Photo shop CS
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Studio ~
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PeaNut 89,428
June 2003
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Loc: Sunny Southern California

Posted: 4/13/2010 7:45:44 PM
Thank you so much, Heather! I have always LOVED your silhouette shots!!!


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Mrs. U

PeaNut 395,972
October 2008
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Layouts: 6
Loc: Georgia!!!!

Posted: 4/13/2010 11:10:09 PM
Thank you SO much for this, Heather!! I've attempted (and failed) silhouettes before and now I know why!! I metered off the subject and NOT the lightsource!! Yep, I just had a "duh" moment!!

Thank you!!

Yes, I am practicing tomorrow! YAY!



PeaNut 35,811
April 2002
Posts: 242
Layouts: 10
Loc: Michigan

Posted: 4/14/2010 1:08:02 PM
Oh my word, your photos are gorgeous!! Thank you so much for a fabulous lesson, I can't wait to practice!


Canon 50d!/tamron 28-75/55-200/50mm 1.8

100 cans of Peas on the Wall...

PeaNut 456,601
February 2010
Posts: 100
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Loc: Surprise, AZ

Posted: 4/15/2010 3:23:36 PM
thank you so much heather! I have been waiting for this! I can't wait to read it all & then go try it out! You rock!


Canon 20D|Canon 50mm 1.4, Canon 17-40mm 4.0L, Canon 75-300mm 4.0|Speedlite 430EX
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PeaNut 378,885
June 2008
Posts: 1,076
Layouts: 7
Loc: BC, Canada

Posted: 4/16/2010 12:48:38 PM
Hi, Thanks for a great lesson and your beautiful photo's!
I've been wanting to try this for a very long time. I am going to try and do this with my kids this weekend and hopefully I can post something for CC.

CC and plays always welcome and much appreciated!
Cannon Rebel XT ~ 17-55mm 2.8 ~ 50mm 1.8

Procrastinator Extrordinaire

PeaNut 227,128
October 2005
Posts: 6,294
Layouts: 57
Loc: Central Valley, California

Posted: 4/16/2010 6:53:38 PM
This is a great lesson and I am looking forward to trying it out!


My Blog: Better Than Real Life

My gear:
Canon 7D ~ Speedlite 430EX ~ CS5
Canon 50mm f1.8 ~ Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro ~ Tamron 28-75mm f2.8
Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 ~ Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6


PeaNut 232,321
November 2005
Posts: 503
Layouts: 45
Loc: DFW Pea

Posted: 4/16/2010 9:31:41 PM
Have never even tried silhouettes before. This motivates me to give it a try.

Thank you, Heather.

Jamie S.


PeaNut 494,757
January 2011
Posts: 9
Layouts: 0

Posted: 10/8/2012 12:39:53 AM
Great advise! Thanks!

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