A silhouette is an image rendered as a solid shape of a single color with its edges showing the outline of the subject. In photography this is a rather easy effect to achieve. Simply by underexposing the subject by several stops, all the shadow detail is lost and the subject will appear as an outline in black. This technique can yield dramatic, powerful images if used properly and sparingly.
When the subject is already backlit, just expose for the background and then dial down the exposure by approximately two stops. This image of a man fishing off the seawall at the Malecon in Havana, Cuba works effectively as a silhouette. The subject was strongly backlit by the late afternoon sun reflecting off the ocean, so I exposed for the water and compensated by another two stops. The resulting photo is more evocative of the mood of quiet contemplation than it would be had I exposed for the fisherman.
This shot of a man fishing off a sea in Havana is rendered more powerfully with the subject in silhouette. Buy this photo
During a studio shoot with a yoga and fitness model, we decided to try something different. We turned off the main light and the fill light that ordinarily illuminate the model, and instead turned up the intensity of the lights on the white backdrop. The resulting images showed the model in full silhouette as she dances and performs yoga poses.
In the studio, turning off the primary lights and increasing the brightness of the back lights yields a true silhouette. This image is striking because it reduces the model’s form to an outline, emphasizing her motion. Buy this photo
The silhouette is a simple technique you can use to get creative in your photography. Experiment away–memory cards are cheap!