The challenge this week is to capture a silhouette in the camera. In silhouettes, the subject is black with little to no detail and the rest of the photo is normally exposed. (This is almost the exact opposite of our previous low key photo challenge where the subject was dramatically lit and the background was mostly dark.) Because the subject has no detail in a silhouette photo, it’s important that the subject itself be recognizable and maybe even tell a story.

Rocky Mountain Dawn
Rocky Mountain Dawn by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

The trick to getting a good silhouette is that the subject needs to be backlit (with the front in shadow) and the background needs to be lighter than the subject. You’ve probably run into this situation when trying to take photos of a tree or a bird against a cloudy sky. Often times the sky turns out light gray or even white and the subject remains black with almost no detail. This week we are trying to achieve this effect on purpose! If you have a nice sunrise or sunset, that can add some beautiful color to your silhouette photo.

Blackbird Silhouette
Blackbird Silhouette by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

City skylines, interesting architecture, amusement parks, trees, etc. can all be great subjects silhouetted against the sky. If you don’t have a beautiful sky to work with, you can create dramatic black and white silhouette photos instead. If you are taking photos outside with human subjects, I recommend that you find a good composition first and then place your subject in the frame. Positioning the camera low to the ground (or your subject(s) up on a hill or on a wall or table) will ensure that your subject doesn’t have a horizon line running through them in the resulting photo.

Untitled by Khánh Hmoong

In addition to using the sky as your background, you can use sunlight reflected on water. Notice that the children in the following photo are below the horizon line and silhouetted against the water. You could also use boats, birds, docks, bridges, etc. as subjects silhouetted against water.

... silhouettes
… silhouettes by Carlo Scherer

Street photography is another possibility. The trick here is that you need to find a wall that is in bright light while the subject is in shade in order to capture a silhouette in the camera.

[ broken symmetry ]
[ broken symmetry ] by Riccardo Romano
If you aren’t able to get outside this week, think about composing a silhouette photo in a window or open doorway. Remember the exposure issues in our Windows Looking Out photochallenge earlier this year? Use that to your advantage this week! Expose for the outside light and anything on the inside will fall into deep shadow (as long as the subject doesn’t have any inside light shining on it.)

Waiting at the window
Waiting at the window by Lovro67

How do you know when you’ve captured a well-exposed silhouette photo? The histogram! For silhouettes you want the black clipping, i.e. stacked up against the left side of the histogram. Unlike low key photos though, it is your subject that is being clipped and the rest of the image can fall anywhere in the full range of the histogram. Even though the histogram shapes of the example photos are widely different, there are two things in common to note among the histograms:

  • they are all stacked against the left side which indicates a nice black silhouette with little to no detail, and
  • they extend the full range of the histogram indicating good contrast and exposure.


This week’s challenge:

  • Capture a silhouette photo in the camera. This means finding or creating the correct lighting conditions with the light behind the subject. (You do NOT need to shoot directly into the sun, but if you do please protect your eyes!)
  • You can tweak the exposure in post-processing (in fact, you pretty much have to if you shoot RAW), but I want you to focus on capturing the correct exposure in the camera which means the histogram should be stacked up against the left side and extend across the entire range of the histogram for good contrast.
  • Please post the histogram in the comments under your photo. They will be wide ranging this week and it will give us practice “seeing” what they tell us.

For more information on how to take silhouette photos, I found the following links helpful:

How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps
14 Tips for Shooting Stunning Silhouettes
Silhouette Photo Tutorial: 7 Tips for Success (video – outdoor silhouette portraits using an iPhone)
“5 Tips for Amazing Silhouettes” with Erika Thornes (video – outdoor silhouette portraits)
One Light Silhouette: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey (video – indoor studio setup and process)

Our friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.


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