Tag Archives: Silhouette

Tips for improving your use of flash

Simple tips about flash help all aspects of your photography.

The use of flash is all about increasing the light intensity in the area where you are working. There are many ways that flash can be used. Here is a great round up of flash tips to get you started.

In Six tips for photographing silhouettes we talked about how to create a silhouette. One of the reasons for flash is to prevent a silhouette. Often when you have a bright background you want to light the foreground to prevent your subject being too dark. You can use your on-board flash, an external flash or studio lights to fill that foreground light and bring your subject up to a brightness level that makes them look natural and well lit.

One thing to remember is that your flash is adjustable. This is a fact that many people forget. Look in your camera or flash manual to see how to make the adjustment. Then make sure that you do not have too much power. Nearly always photographers have the flash too high. Very bright flash makes faces look washed out and tired. It will also cause nasty and distracting highlights. You can turn your flash off, down or sometimes up. It is certainly worth experimenting with it to see how much you can adjust it and what effects the adjustment has on your subject.

On-board flash and off-camera flash are two different things altogether. You can easily do some things with the off-camera flash that you can with you pop-up (on-board) unit. However, there are some things you should know about on-camera flash – it is pretty limiting.

The differences between types of flash, and many other useful tips, including more on the tips above, can be found in the video below. It explores quite a few aspects of flash and is a great background for you to get started.

Posted on YouTube by: http://www.steeletraining.com

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.

Six tips for photographing silhouettes

"Figures on the dunes"

“Figures on the dunes” – the art in silhouettes is about shape
Click the image to view large

Shooting silhouettes is about photographing contrasts

The only difficulty with silhouettes is seeing them. Our eyes often see detail in scenes that the camera cannot. We take a shot at something and a silhouette comes out – what’s happening? The difference between the brighter and darker areas of the shot creates a silhouette.

1. How a silhouette is created

Humans, and cameras, see a silhouette when there is a foreground-object placed in front of a strongly lighted background. The foreground-object looks black if it is not lit from the front. The strong back-light just looks bright behind the black and this creates the silhouette. In other words, the contrast between the bright background and the dark foreground object is so large the camera image sensor, cannot resolve details in it, leaving it black. In photographic terms, if there is more than two stops difference in the light between the foreground object and the background lighting there will be a silhouette.

"Cows Grazing" - Creating silhouettes is fun and easy.

“Cows Grazing” – Creating silhouettes is fun and easy.

In the picture above the tiny cows on the brow of the hill are black (dark) objects because they are not lit from the front. The sky behind them is relatively bright compared to them. So, a silhouette is created.

Clarity of the image is everything. So, in addition to ensuring the edges of your silhouette are well defined and not confused with clouds and other objects, make sure they are sharp. The shape is important, so is the focus. The simplicity and purity of the silhouette is lost if the sharpness is not there to support it.

2. You can ensure something becomes a silhouette

A silhouette will be created every time a dark foreground object is placed against a brighter background. However, sometimes you can still see some detail in the foreground object, which is not a true silhouette. There are some things you can do about this.

  1. Lower the foreground lighting to darken the foreground object
  2. Brighten the background increasing contrast between front and back.
  3. Underexpose the foreground making it go black so the background stands out.
  4. Overexpose the background so it darkens the foreground object.
  5. Post-process the image to blacken the silhouette and brighten the background

In effect the techniques increase the contrast between the front and back. That blows out or brightens the background. This relatively underexposes the foreground object so detail is lost making it black. If you do any of these, or more than one of them, you are controlling the light to create a silhouette. You can do these to a lesser or greater extent with a scene you create, or one you see when you are out and about.

3. The art in is in the shape

The silhouette art form has been used to strongly characterise shape since the time of the Greeks. The stark and well defined edges in a silhouette are simple and attractive. Dating from around 1750 onwards, the method of making silhouettes was to cut them from thin black cardboard and mount them on a white background. This established a strong tradition of high contrast silhouette art. In the last 150 years the cut-out form of the art has mostly been replaced by photography silhouettes.

A powerful silhouette is about shape. The more graphic you can make it the more the image stands out. The best silhouettes are two dimensional although modern photographic techniques allow for the scene to have depth and apparent texture. The trick in producing a successful image as a silhouette today is therefore to provide a clear image, a traditional shape-format for the silhouette shape itself, and a great photograph in which the silhouette has context.

4. Sunset and sunrise

These are ideal times for creating silhouettes. The darkening sky still has sufficient intensity of light for making a photograph. The sky often has great colours too. Highlighting objects of interest against the sky at these times gives not only the drama of high contrast in the image, but also dramatic or attractive colours. Any great sunset or sunrise can be used for a silhouette. The best ones are against a clear sky because the colours are more intense and there is no cloud to confuse the edges of the silhouette.

When working at these times you will need to be working with longer exposures to compensate for the darker tones and colours. Make sure you set out with a tripod. Also read up on night photography because the same settings and techniques apply in these low-light conditions.

5. Bright sunny days

The hottest mid-day light is often a disaster for the photographer. The sun beats down from above and drives out the colours as well as flattening the shadows. Everything looks flat. However, guess what? This is a great time for silhouettes.

Photographing objects against strong, blue, mid-day sky creates great silhouettes. You can lie on the ground shooting straight up at things, or just pick out objects in the environment. Just make sure the contrast between the silhouette object and the background is high. This usually means exposing your shot for the sky itself.

To expose for the sky get the camera to focus on the brightness of the sky. Point it so your focus point in the viewfinder is in the bright area but your silhouette shape is still in the frame. If the sky is very bright, or featureless, the auto-focus may ‘hunt’ and fail to focus. Auto-focus works by matching contrasts of tones. If it does not see a contrast it has nothing to focus upon. So try to find something that can be used. You can try to put your focus point near the silhouette subject, but not on it. That sometimes works. Or, you can focus on a cloud, bird or other object that is still mainly very bright. Once you have managed to get your camera to focus on the sky the silhouette subject will be relatively darker and you have your silhouette. The darker your subject the better it will be in silhouette.

The picture with the cows on the brow of the hill above was taken at about 1.30pm on a bright sunny day. When a few dark clouds passed over the hill nearby I exposed for the clouds. They came out with lovely detail. The cows were little black silhouettes as they were underexposed.

6. Wind and movement

Wind is the enemy of the silhouette – outside anyway. There is nothing worse than your tree waving its branches when you are doing a longish exposure. Even a slight wind can ruin things. The image will look blurry and there will be ill defined edges for the actual shape. So look carefully at everything around you and make sure that you have no movement. If you do have wind blowing, find something solid and immovable with which to do your silhouette. For the same reason, it is not easy to do silhouettes of anything moving, like cars or people.

Do you have any great tips to add to this? Please enter a comment below and we will write them up!