Storytelling Silhouettes | by Melissa Richard

A silhouette in photography is a dark outline of the subject(s) against a lighter background.


If you follow my work, it’s no secret that capturing silhouettes is one of my favourite things to do. I stumbled onto silhouette photography purely by accident. I almost always backlit my subject, and position the sun behind them (perfect recipe for a silhouette capture!) Since discovering how to capture silhouettes, I haven’t stopped experimenting with it.


There is something about the storytelling, mystery, drama, mood, and emotion that comes with silhouette photography that really ignites my passion for photography. My favourite silhouette imagery encompasses a beautiful dramatic sky. The emotions and feelings that the added drama elicits is what I crave. I love colour and texture, so I do prefer some clouds in the frame.


I am a light studier; I will study the light and sky frequently, waiting for the opportunity to capture a new silhouette. I prefer my silhouettes to have some sort of movement, it really helps to tell the story I am trying to convey. If the wind is blowing, I have my subject face it so I can capture the hair movement. I also like to position them so I can capture them from their side profile and capture those
telling details.


I am lucky, where we live in Northern Alberta, we get gorgeous skies. I do not normally need to add a sky in or change it. The image of my son in his Kindergarten Graduation gown I added a bit more cloud into that image. My last image with the twirly rainbow umbrella, I added a sky overlay as the sky was completely bare that evening. If the sky is not as moody or dramatic as you were hoping, you can always add in some extra clouds or a completely new sky with a sky overlay. Sometimes, if the sky is clear, I leave it that way as you can see with my family self-portrait image to boost the capture against the negative space.


Quick tips:

  • Narrow your f-stop. Start at around f/8 and change if needed (I am a wide open shooter, except for when it comes to silhouette photography).

  • Meter off the sky and not your subject.

  • Shoot slightly underexposed.

  • Move around, have your subject move so they are slightly blocking the sun to get that sun burst effect.

  • Get creative! Use different sources of light (WINDOWS!! lamps, headlights,etc..) I practiced on myself in front of my bedroom window for my self portrait silhouette.

  • Practice, practice practice!


Head on over to the Hello Storyteller Members group to watch my exclusive behind-the-scenes video on how I shot my silhouette image with Emma hula-hooping

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