Tips for Photographing Sunset Silhouettes
When photographing in dramatic light, you usually want to shoot so the good light is falling on your subjects. However, if you turn around and shoot towards the light, you can create a silhouette.
Silhouettes make for appealing photographs because they allow the viewers to imagine themselves in the scene. Although your subject might not be recognizable when they’re in shadow, the impact of the photo comes from the power of suggestion. You don’t always have to show every detail to make a compelling photo; in fact, the less you show, the more powerful your photo can potentially be.
This technique also works for shooting natural features in the landscapes. Just as when creating silhouette of people, the image becomes more about shape, light and relationships than the details of the subject itself. The added impact comes from the power of suggestion.
The most common way to shoot a silhouette is to place your main subject in front of a dramatic sky, and then expose for the sky instead of the subject. You may want to slightly underexposing the scene. This will allow your main subjects to drop even further into shadow and increase the dramatic effect of this photography technique. Silhouettes work best when you have a lot of color in the sky, such as at sunset. Cloudy days don’t usually make for very exciting silhouettes.
When shooting silhouettes, be sure to vary your compositions. Try backing up and shooting your subjects as small figures against the background, then then move in and shoot close up. You can create different narratives by changing the size and placement of subject matter in relation to the rest of the scene.
You can add even more drama to a silhouette by adding a sunstar. Begin by placing the sun directly behind the subject, so it just barely “peeks” out around the edge. Then stop your lens down to f/16 or f/22; this will create a sunstar effect. Make sure your auto flash is disabled or you’ll ruin the effect.