There are several ways to capture silhouettes. I find one of the easiest is to use your exposure compensation function, the same feature discussed in the previous post. The image above was shot at -2.0, under-exposing the image by two stops. The sky is a rich color, and the couple on the beach swing is completely black. Below, you will see variations of compensation (0, -1.0 -2.0 and -3.0) of the same scene. Next time you’re shooting around sunset, take several images of your subject that has strong identifiable lines at different exposure compensation settings until you find the one that best suits your vision.
Sometimes we take the shot we had in mind and call it a day. But when the light is so beautiful at sunset, it pays to take a few steps around just to check out how the sun is lighting your subject. The photo on the left was the one I was after: two girls watching the sunset, captured in near silhouette as the center-weighted meter gave an exposure for the bright setting sun and made most of the other parts of the shot go dark. Just what I wanted. But then I sat down next to the girls to watch the sunset with them, and wow, was the light across their faces gorgeous. So of course I snapped away while the sun set! Because the light was low, I boosted my ISO to 640 and got a shutter speed of 1/100th sec at F/5.0 aperture. If I had unlimited cooperation from my two subjects, I would have boosted the ISO to 1000 and shot more photos at F/8 so that the girl further back would be in sharper focus. When shooting more than one person, either try to get them on the same plane of focus, or deepen your depth of field by using a smaller aperture like F/8. Not always possible, as was the case here, but the sweet expressions and the light make the shot a perfect one for me.
Silhouettes are some of the most dramatic images. Who doesn’t love the silo of father and child walking away from the camera holding hands; or dad lifting a toddler high above his head against a blue sky; or an iconic skyline with a beautiful sunset backdrop. I could go on and on with examples we can instantly picture in our minds…palm trees, mountain ranges, large mammals atop a hillside, swimmers getting ready to jump into the lake. You get it. And to get the shot, it is actually very easy. My first example is not the greatest composition due to the distracting fence that surrounds the basketball court, but it clearly shows the subject and all details as black silhouettes. To take a silhouette photo, it helps to remember how the camera makes a proper exposure. When the meter reads very bright light, it stops down the aperture to a very small aperture, thus letting in less light. So if you point the camera at the sky, and lock in the exposure for the bright blue sky or brilliant sunset, the camera will pick a very small aperture like F22, letting in less light and therefore under-exposing your subject, which in turn becomes black. You can vary the effect by using your exposure compensation button (+/-) and taking shots a stop or two under and a stop or two over and pick the effect you like best. In my examples below, I metered off of the bright water and achieved the same effect. So next time it is a sunny day, crouch low so that your subject is against the bright background, meter for the sky and shoot away.
Here’s another quick example of the rule of thirds. I love its simplicity. I called it heading home on my Project 365 blog. The main subjects are located in roughly the lower left third of the grid. Read more about the rule of thirds here, and here.