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Creation of the Silhouette

August 10th, 2011  |  Published in Featured, Shoot

In honor of the ShootStyle assignment series this month (and this is the last day to enter, so pull out your silhouette images!), I wanted to post about how I create silhouette images for my clients.  There are several different ways to go about it, but today I will be sharing my method.

Michelle Turner Photography Silhouette


First, I try to find an area that has a lot of backlighting and is clear of foliage or buildings unless they have an interesting, open pattern that will look good in a silhouette.  For a more dramatic silhouette, I try to make sure that the area above the horizon takes up 2/3 of the image.  To accomplish this, it is often necessary to either elevate the couple (put them up on a wall or a table) or to lie on the ground myself.  Occasionally I will need to do both.

Next, I wait for the right time.  Too soon, and you won’t have enough colors in the sky.  Too late, and there won’t be enough separation between your couple and the background without extensive (and complex) Photoshop manipulation.  As a general rule I try to take the image just as the sun is disappearing or immediately after.

You will need to work quickly at this point as the window is a small one.  I find the proper exposure by exposing for the background (the backlit area)– to do this, I simply meter off of the sky and set my manual exposure from there, fiddling with it if necessary.  If you are not a manual shooter, you can spin the exposure compensation dial to find the proper settings.

If you want to include the sun in a more dramatic fashion, then you should stop down and use a smaller aperture (a larger number).  In the collage above, the image on the lower right shows the sun’s rays shooting across the couple- I shot this at f/11 to include that flare.  In the image on the left the sun wasn’t quite as essential to the photograph and I wasn’t going for a flare shot- I photographed this at f/3.2 and as a result I haven’t captured any flare.

Most of my silhouette images include some Photoshop manipulation.  Most of the time I have captured too much shadow detail in the couple in the image, and I want to change that and make the couple/silhouette a true black.   After you open the image in Photoshop, make sure you look for sensor spots/dust bunnies on your sensor- these spots will be very noticeable in the image.  I use the healing brush to take those out.  Next, I open levels and move the left slider to the right until the blacks have deepened.  Finally, I punch the colors of the background using hue/saturation.  You can see this process in the before and after below- the difference is subtle, but provides that extra punch that I am looking for:

michelle turner silhouette

Happy shooting!

Post by Maine Wedding Photographer Michelle Turner.



About Michelle Turner

Michelle Turner has written 19 post in this blog.

Michelle is a professional wedding photographer who splits time between Maine and Puerto Vallarta.


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