silhouette of woman standing on the shore
Photo by Balazs Simon on Pexels.com

Silhouettes are one photo that everybody seems to like. It is like a mystery photograph. It seems easy to take: just take a picture of the sunset, and have someone enter the picture, and they will be dark, while the sunset stays beautiful.

Here are some other tips on how to make them even better:


Before heading out to shoot silhouettes, make sure you have a camera that lets you adjust the exposure. In other words, you should be able to brighten and darken the photo at will.

(All modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have this functionality and so do most smartphones.)


Photo by Lanny Cottrell Photography – 123photogo

Make sure that the subject in your silhouette is something that people will recognize. A person, a tree, a child, your car, whatever, but, make sure it’s recognizable. Don’t put something in there so small that only you know what it is.


Whether you are using a camera or a cell phone, take your camera off auto-flash mode. To create the effect you want, you don’t want any light on the front subject.


silhouette of man and woman standing on rock formation during sunset
Photo by Thái Huỳnh on Pexels.com

When it comes to lighting your subject, you’ll need to throw out a lot of what you’ve learned about normal photography and think a little backward.

Instead of lighting the front of your subject, you need to ensure that there is more light shining from the background than the foreground of your shot.


Most people like their subject right in front of the main light. There are exceptions of course. Look at the beautiful image of the wedding couple above. That is not in front of the sun, but off to the side. This creates a beautiful effect as well. Here is one where the subject is right in front of the main light:

silhouette photography of man and woman
Photo by Gabriel Bastelli on Pexels.com


With today’s cameras and cell phones, it seems the auto mode knows that this is a sunset, or bright light in the background. So, automatic may work for you. Give it a try and see if that makes things easier for you:

silhouette photo of man standing on seashore
Photo by Athena on Pexels.com


Photo by Sajjad Ahmadi on Unsplash

The usual silhouette is usually done with the sun as the background light. But, you can create silhouettes with artificial lighting. As long as the light you use is the background, and facing your subject. This light will usually need to be fairly strong too, and make sure, also, that there is no foreground light on the main subject.

artsy back view silhouette photo of woman standing in front of neon lit room
Photo by Ali Müftüoğulları on Pexels.com


A wonderful type of photography. Now you know all the rules, go ahead and try these steps. And if you want to share any of your photos, check this out:


silhouette of man with oil lamp on shore at sunset
Photo by Bhola shanker Katariya on Pexels.com

We all take sunset photos, don’t we.  We see that magnificent colors just shooting at us over the horizon, giving us that great shot of color.  Who wouldn’t take a few great shots of sunset photos.  But, after you see one sunset after another, sometimes you can actually get bored of them.  What can you do to make those hundreds of sunset photos more interesting?  Here it is:


Yes, true, isn’t when you think about it.  A beautiful sunset with something in the foreground of the sunset. I am going to throw out a couple of pictures from the collection of “Photos of the Week” and you tell me if these sunset photos just make the photo so much  more interesting:

Photo taken by : Sasin Tipchai

Now, imagine these two photos above, or even the top photo without the objects in the foreground.  They are dark, no detail, but, they frame the sunset in the top photo, in the others, they tell a story with color.  Color my story.  That was our subject yesterday. If you had someone look at a variety of photos, their eyes would be drawn to the ones with the vibrant colors.  Now, here is the question of the day, and be truthful with yourself:  If you had a gallery of photos, would most people be drawn to the photos of just sunsets, or sunsets with a silhouette in them that tell a story, or a silhouette that is used for framing the sunset?  9 out 10 people prefer some subject material in their sunset photos. 



We previously discovered that the pretty colors in a sunset aren’t always enough. A winning sunset photo needs a star. In today’s lesson we’ll discuss adding silhouettes to get better photographs of the sun.


In previous articles, we have mentioned that the star could be an interesting palm tree, a seagull flying by, or basically anything. The gorgeous colors are the backdrop to our star, not the focus of the photo. But, much like our regular non-sunset landscape photos, the most effective star is a person—people like looking at people! You will get the viewer more easily engaged in a photo where there are people being shown.

In a sunset photograph there’s two ways to add a person. In silhouette showing no detail and the traditional route that shows full detail. Today’s sunset photography photo tip will discuss adding a silhouetted person or other subject. The principles are valid no matter what your “star” is. Done well, the end result can be one of the most exquisite photographs you could create.

When adding a silhouette, the key element to keep in mind is that you are adding a shape, not a person (or bird or tree). Your shape will be pure black with no detail. In sunset photography, getting the pure black shape with no detail is pretty basic. In our earlier discussions, we learned that if we take our meter readings from the sky—everything else in our sunset photo is going to be underexposed and black. Ta-daaa!

photo by Rachel Titiriga

Previously, our concern was to bring detail into the dark areas, now we just let them go dark. To add a silhouette, the first step is to meter from the sky, not the person. If you meter from the person, your camera will make a mighty attempt at setting an exposure to show detail. In other words, you have to take the camera off automatic. Meter for the sky and then re-compose to put your “star” in the correct place in the photo. Easy.

The second concern we have in adding a silhouette is actually harder to get right. Remember, you’re adding a shape and everything but the sky is black with no detail. Including the ground. When you add your shape, it has to “read” correctly. By “read” I mean when someone looks at your photo, they must be able to instantly tell what it is. If your subject is standing in front of some other object, like a palm tree, rock or whatever, the silhouetted shapes will blend together and distort the image.

photo by Manfred Moitzi

This idea is hard to put in words, but easy to understand. I’m sure you have seen photos where the silhouettes blended together and neither looks right. A person with a palm tree growing out of their head, a palm tree with a seagull’s wing sticking out of the trunk and so on. Be sure that there is nothing intersecting with your silhouetted shape, including the ground. I frequently see silhouettes where the top half of the model is in silhouette, but the bottom half is lost in the ground. You may have to shoot up at your star from a slightly lower vantage point to avoid this sort of blending.

The third factor to consider is the shape itself. Not only do you have to watch out for your silhouette not reading correctly because it blends with others, it can blend with itself too! Arms crossing in front of the body or hanging (with no gaps) along the sides, legs together and so on. To get an effective silhouette, the pose is vital, more so than in a normal photo of this person. The fact that she is a pretty girl doesn’t matter in this case. In a silhouette, no one is going to be able to tell what she looks like.

photo by Julian Garduno

Take photo examples from magazines and color them with a black magic marker. Would that pose “read” and be effective if that was all you could see of the person? Hats and other clothing could dramatically alter the shape and look weird in silhouette. It may look like a tiara in the wedding photos, but in silhouette, it looks like devil’s horns sticking out of her head. Study various poses for their shapes and find several you can use when you are creating silhouettes. Add them to your notebook so you will always have them at hand when the situation arises.

Silhouettes are not only effective in sunset photography, but also at weddings. For example, pose the couple in silhouette in front of a stained glass window. Or, at the door of the church with the light from outside silhouetting them.

Practice today’s landscape photography photo tip on how to get better sunset photography by including silhouettes. There are many times when a silhouette is just the thing you need to separate you from the crowd, its worth learning how to do them well.

About the Author: Dan Eitreim writes for ontargetphototraining.com. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.



Photo taken by Lanny Cottrell for 123PhotoGo

Silhouette photography is something that is just beautiful, because it happens within the “story telling” mode. When you see a silhouette photo, it makes you think of what is going on, and it’s a great way to tell a story.

When you take a silhouette photo, make sure you have a camera that you can adjust the camera for exposure. Although, a camera that has just automatic mode may just give you good results. However, these newer cameras will sense that there is a subject in the foreground, and try to expose for that in automatic mode, thus, making your silhouette photo not turn out the way you dreamed about.

silhouette of person
Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com


Almost any object can be made into a silhouette. However, some objects are better than others.

Choose something with a strong and recognizable shape that will be interesting enough in its two-dimensional form to hold the viewer’s attention.

Silhouettes can’t draw on the colors, textures, and tones of subjects to make themselves appealing, so the shape needs to be distinct.

And having people as the subject is usually one of the best subjects in silhouette photography, especially if it is someone you know. Funny thing is that the person in the photos usually loves the results of them being a silhouette.

2- If you have a camera with auto flash, make sure you turn that off. A silhouette will not be a silhouette when a flash is used.

3- Get the light right when you do silhouette photos.

silhouette of a person on a swing
Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

When it comes to lighting your subject, you’ll need to throw out a lot of what you’ve learned about normal photography and think a little backward.

Instead of lighting the front of your subject, you need to ensure that there is more light shining from the background than the foreground of your shot. Or to put it another way, you want to light the back of your subject rather than the front.

The perfect setup is to place your subject in front of a sunset or sunrise – but any bright light will do the trick.

4- Make sure that the subject in your silhouette is distinct and uncluttered. If you use a person for your subject, that is usually the easy part. But, make sure there isn’t a lot of other “stuff” in the photo to distract from the main subject.

silhouette photo of person riding on horse
Photo by Arvind shakya on Pexels.com

5- Use manual mode for your exposure control to get the photo just the way you want it.

A simple way to use Manual mode is to actually start in Auto. Point your camera at the brightest part of the sky, look at the shutter speed and aperture that your camera suggests, then switch over to Manual mode and dial in those settings.

Next, take a test shot and review it on your camera’s screen.

If your subject is too light (i.e., you need to make it darker), increase the shutter speed and see what happens. And if your subject is too dark, decrease the shutter speed to brighten up the shot.

Eventually, you’ll end up with a well-exposed silhouette!

6- Because you are working in the dark for your subject, make sure you keep it sharp. This is a time when autofocus might give you trouble, so be careful and watch that your focus is good.

silhouette photo of woman
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

7- If you want to take the time to be really creative, have controlled light with just enough light to highlight the edges of your subject, like the photo above. It is very dramatic and is something that really is a great piece of art. This is something that you would have to do with a manual camera, because the subject will need to be dark as well, plus the background may be dark, so you can get the lining of your subject lit.


Doing silhouette photography is something you have to practice with, but, when you get it right, it is a real piece of art. During the next little while, through summer and beyond, there will be that chance of some good sunset photography. Why not put a subject in the foreground, and take the photo just like you are taking a picture of the sunset, and you should get some great silhouette pictures. Good luck.

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time
Photo by Belle Co on Pexels.com
Here is another inspirational photo, but, also done as a silhouette. This photo and other photos are available for sale at: www.123photogo.com/shop/