TECH TIPS #54

EXPOSE FOR THE SILHOUETTES

To achieve more dramatic images you can photograph with backlight and expose for silhouettes. This can be a bit difficult to begin with, but with a little training you will master it.

To get a silhouette you need to photograph with backlight and preferably with the sun low in the sky. With a low sun you’ll get a reddish-orange light, as in the pictures above. When the sun is higher in the sky, the contrasts and light will become harsher as in the picture of the Yellow-billed stork.

The biggest challenge with silhouettes is to get the exposure right, because there can be large differences in contrast. If you use the aperture priority setting, you often need to under expose by at least three stops if you spot meter in the shadows. However, if you use Matrix, Evaluative or average metering mode, you rarely need exposure compensation. You get the best results with manual exposure and reference to the histogram (#6).

You can decide whether the shadows of the silhouette will be completely black or show some details. When the sun is in the image, the shadows must be black so that the highlights don’t burn out. In that case you should photograph wildlife in full profile if it is important to be able to see what species you have captured. When the sun isn’t in the frame, you can expose so that you get some details in the shadows, as with the oryx above.

If the sun is positioned directly or almost directly behind your subject, you can get a “halo” at the outer edge of the silhouette. This halo will stand out more if you have a dark background. The lower the sun is, the more reddish-orange the halo will be.


This Tech tip is part of the book 101 Tech tips for wildlife photography published in 2011, written by Ole J Liodden. So far the book has been published in Norwegian (101 gode råd for naturfoto av fugler og dyr) and Swedish. The 6 chapters are: Equipment and settings, Out in the field, Inspired by the light, Composition, Wildlife care and On photo tours. This is a book for photographers who need inspiration, new ideas and want to learn more about PHOTOGRAPHY BY PURPOSE. It’s not your first photo know-how book about basic photography. You can order the Norwegian version in the webshop.

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