I love silhouettes. They are one of my favorite ways to capture the life on the streets.
Wikipedia describes a silhouette as a "view at an object or scene as a solid shape". Furthermore, silhouettes are usually black. The shape of a silhouette "depicts the outline of an object, while the interior is featureless". Sounds easy right?!
For me, a silhouette adds a mystery to a scene. Basically, if the protagonist of the scene is captured as a silhouette, he or she becomes interchangeable. The viewer of the picture can easily build up his own story. On the other hand, if you live in a country like Germany, where a strong privacy law prohibits taking pictures of identifiable people in the public, silhouettes are a prefect way to shoot the streets and to be in consent with the law.
In this blog post I want to share how I capture silhouettes. Let's have a look at two easy technical approaches. The most important thing for both approaches is that you know how to take control of your camera and have a look for the background, it should not be too busy.
One way to capture silhouettes is exposing for highlights. Your camera must be capable of spot-metering. Exposing for the highlights in the background leads to a "bad exposure" of your subject in the foreground, your later silhouette. Below you find two photos, in the left one, I exposed for my subject in the foreground, so there is no silhouette; on the other hand, in the right photo, I exposed for the highlights in the background, this created the silhouette.
Below, you'll find another example for the abovementioned "exposing-method".
Another easy way to create silhouettes is the use a relatively long shutter speed (e.g. 1/30th of a second) in order to use motion blur of moving subjects. For this approach, you have to spot the scene first; in other words, you have to find a suitable stage for your subject. As the blurred subject will most probably be dark, it will be an advantage, if the background is relatively bright so that the dark silhouette can stand out.
For below picture, I spotted the scene first, I figured that I wanted to have a blurred person in the left, brighter part of the frame. I chose a long shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, crouched and waited for as suitable person to enter the stage (note: with long shutter speeds you must have a steady hand, otherwise you blur the whole frame).
In my opinion, silhouettes are great to add a mystery to your images. There are more ways to capture silhouettes- what's your favorite method? -feel free to share it.
In the end, don't focus too much on the technical aspects. Just use a method which you feel comfortable with. Have fun shooting!