Essence of Photography: Silhouettes

Learn how to create silhouette photos that tell a story.

September 17, 2021

What is a Silhouette?

A silhouette is simply a cut out shape of an object such as an animal or person. Sunrises and Sunsets provide good opportunities to create silhouettes. By adjusting the exposure for the sky (darker than normal), you can get colorful backgrounds with silhouette shapes in the foreground.

The Right Background

You don't have to wait for the right sun conditions as you can create silhouettes with all different backgrounds. Just look for a bright background and isolate subjects that take on a distinct shape in silhouette (vs many objects on top of each other that would create one mass shape).

You can even create silhouettes against the moon with the right lens. These photos used a telephoto lens to make the moon and sun look larger than normal with a subject in front to create the silhouette.

Telling a Story With Silhouettes

By using cut out shapes, you can tell creative stories. Sometimes a dark shape of a person can be more expressive than a regular photo. Also the relation between multiple subjects is accentuated when you only see the shape outlines of their interactions.

Silhouettes in Nature

Getting out in nature is a great place to create interesting silhouettes of large animals down to tiny insects. The same idea applies. Find a brighter background and isolate your subject in front of it. Expose your camera so the background is darker and the subjects appear like cut out shapes.

Trees are also a good subject for silhouettes. You can photograph them against a sunset or even a bright blue sky, as long as you darken the exposure to make the tree branches seem darker in the image.




Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

You can practice these skills and more by purchasing a deck of Photo Cards from Zoom In Reach Out, a non-profit with a mission of teaching to see the world from a different perspective.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

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