How to create a silhouette

16 Jan

I wanted to use post today to talk briefly about a photographic technique that I sometimes employ… creating silhouettes. A silhouette is where the person or object within the picture consists of just an outline with the rest being filled with just a single shade, usually black. The example I will use is a photo I took whilst in Plymouth over Christmas. When taking a silhouette, you generally want the person or object you are silhouetting to be dark compared to the background. Taking a photo into the sun is perfect for this.

You will notice that the person in the photo (my cousin Gemma) and the arch surrounding her, is dark. The background (the sea) appears properly exposed. This is what I want for my silhouette. To achieve this, I focused my camera by pointing it at the sea, not Gemma. If I had focused the image on Gemma, I would have ended up with something like this

Here you can see Gemma and the arch in more detail. Also, the background is very light. I don’t want either of these things.

Ok, back to the first image. You may notice that, although small, there are a few details of Gemma still showing. Nothing against Gemma, but I just want to have a black outline. For this I will use ( is a great and simple piece of photo editing software. You can download it free here).

After opening up the image in, I go to Adjustments, Brightness/Contrast. Increasing the contrast makes lighter areas of the photos lighter and darker areas darker. Not only does this remove detains on Gemma and the arch but it gives more definition to the waves in the background. Once I am happy with the image, I click ok.

Finally I rotate the image slightly and crop it so that both side are roughly symmetrical. I could at this stage make the image black and white, but I quite like the watercolour effect that retaining some of the blue in the background gives.

This effect is simple to achieve but ver effective in my opinion. By removing the details in the subject, the viewer is left to fill in the gaps themselves, making the photo more dramatic as a result.


11 Responses to “How to create a silhouette”

  1. superjessleong January 16, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    oOo thats awesome 😀 i havnt really taken any silhouette pictures before! maybe i shall test it out and try that out x) thanks! very nice picture too ;D i like it

  2. stickinsect January 16, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    Thanks. It really is very easy to do. If you haven’t got photoshop or anything, get too! 😉 Look forward to seeing the photos you take.

  3. leo timoshenko January 16, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    beautiful framing on that image. though, i do like how the first photo still had a little bit of light on her. The drama in the the last photo works too but perhaps leaving a bit of light on the edge of the figure and not the insides (does that even make any sense?) so a cross between the first and last photo. that way the figure and the arch is not too flattened out. : ) not that i am any expert on photography, of course. sorry if this comment sounded a bit pompous!

    • stickinsect January 17, 2011 at 12:06 am #

      Yeah, that makes sense. When I increase the contrast, the arch and Gemma do look very flat… like a 2d image. I think this leaves a bit more to our own imagination.

  4. Sandra Bell Kirchman January 16, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    Oh, great picture, Michael. I am not much of a photographer although I used to take pictures some years ago to accompany the articles I was writing at the time. They were “okay” but not masterpieces. But what you have here is art, and so easy to do too (or so it seems). Good job! And thanks for sharing the technique.

    Sandra Bell Kirchman
    Wizards and Ogres and Elves…oh my!

  5. rrajan09 January 16, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks for the useful tip, Michael. I have started posting photoaday for 365 days at I will definitely try this technique and thanks for sharing.

    • stickinsect January 17, 2011 at 12:08 am #

      Thanks. Very interesting blog by the way. Some really nice experiments.

  6. Angel January 16, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Wow, I could really learn a lot from you. I just point and click, and then auto adjust. Pathetic, I know. Nice blog.

    • stickinsect January 17, 2011 at 12:09 am #

      You don’t have to make lots of fine adjustments to take a nice photo. For this photo, I just used the full automatic settings on my camera.

  7. Leianne January 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    This is nice, thanks for sharing what you know 😉

  8. louids January 17, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    I usually hate hate hate taking pictures like this but you made it work in yours, its lovely, good job =))

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