Picture This: Silhouettes

Last week’s camera phone challenge was fun for me and I hope you had a good time being creative too! So how about other kinds of photo compositions? What are some other ways to make your photos standout? One of my favorites is silhouettes which happen to also be pretty easy to create! Are you ready for the challenge?

First thing you need to know about silhouettes is that the photo is generally composed of an object in front of a light source (the black space occupied by the object is shadow). Because the light behind the object is so strong, your camera’s shutter speed will be fast and the aperture will be high. This is to control the light so that the sensor isn’t over loaded, otherwise your photo will come out over exposed and all white with little detail. (Shutter is how fast the camera’s window opens; Aperture is how wide the camera’s window opens but confusingly, large numbers mean small windows and small numbers mean large windows.) Your camera’s sensor needs light to record information and since there is no light illuminating the backside of your object, it will come out black while the light source behind it will create strong cut-out shapes. Does it sound too technical? Let me show you what I mean.


This was an unintentional silhoutte. What happened? I was standing under a tree which effectively blocked all sun from illuminating our faces. Behind us and out of the tree’s shadow, the sun was burning up the beach. The camera, even though it was focused on us, took note of the bright light source in the distance and adjusted itself automatically so that the photo wasn’t washed out, leaving the beach perfectly exposed but our faces decidedly underexposed. How could we have fixed this? The simple solution would have been to move out from under the tree and into the sunlight, or the photographer could have used a flash to fill the dark space.

But we want to purposely make a silhouette, so what do we do?

How to make a silhouette: two photos of a person sitting in front of a fire, in one you can see the face of a girl illuminated, in the other only the outline of a man.

First, choose a good strong object to photograph with a clearly recognizable shape that won’t be lost in photos. In other words: Furby would not be recognizable as he’ll come be exposed looking like a big ball of nothing. A sailboat would probably be recognizable though because of it’s distinct shape as would a hot air balloon or a bicycle. Next, maneuver yourself to put that object between your camera and a light source. In the first picture, we almost have a silhouette but not quite. The subject is still illuminated by the fire and we don’t have a clear negative (dark) shape yet. By maneuvering around behind the object so that the object is between the camera and the light source, the photographer can get a clearer negative shape.

Silhouettes are a pretty easy photo to construct, but they may require some practice. Your challenge this week is to try creating a silhouette on your own using the sky, a window, a lamp, maybe even the computer screen to illuminate the outline of an object you wish to photograph while maintaining the negative space. If you find yourself getting confused, remember that a silhouette is simply an object between the camera and a light source. All the other details will be worked out with a bit of practice. Need inspiration? Check out these beautiful silhouettes to get some ideas!

Also, I wanted to make a shout out to Persephone photographer Pileofmonkeys for her silhouette of a monkey in the fireplace! PoM submitted this photo for the very first Picture This! challenge and did an excellent job not only capturing our theme “between places” but also constructing a very cool photo.

So, are you ready to get out and get creative? Come back here later this week to post your silhouette photo and share your thoughts! You can post your photo in the comments by either a. uploading it using the comment uploader (photos need to be less than 2MB for this to work) or by b. copy and pasting from elsewhere. You can copy and paste (and store your photos!) by following these instructions: Many of you have Gmail accounts and when you create an account with Google, you are also creating an account with Picasa Web Albums. To access it, click “photos” on the bar at the top of your screen while in Gmail, or if you’re not a Gmail user, go to Google, click on the more tab at the top, select “Photos” and create an account (or just click on the link above). Follow the instructions to upload a photo. When you are done, open the photo and right click to copy it. Then come back to the comments and paste it. Easy-peasy.

Also, if you’re new to the Picture This challenge, you might appreciate some of the previous articles! To find all of the Picture This articles, select “photography” from the search by category drop down menu on the home page. This is also a very convenient way to find the previous article for commenting and picture posting!

Okay, let’s go and make it snappy!

Published by


Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

Leave a Reply