Erika Thornes talks about how important it is to get separation with silhouettes. Hands, legs, arms, all important to be able to see distinctly. Erika Thornes suggests turning heads so noses are seen in profile.
- [Instructor] Separation, The Secret Sauce. We're finally to the heart of the matter. The most important make or break of a killer silhouette, composing the subject. It's the tiny details that make up the special sauce. I'm so excited to go over this with you. Seriously, this is what's going to take your silhouettes to the next level. All that other stuff is necessary to the concepts of silhouettes, but this, this is essential for the art of shooting silhouettes. Yes, you can have happy accidents of capturing amazing silhouettes in street photography or photojournalism, but they all rely on these same techniques of composition.
I'll focus on building a great silhouette from the ground up and as soon as we can see it, we'll be able to compose or shoot it photojournalism style with fantastic results. One of the biggest mistakes I see with silhouettes is having a fantastic sky, with blobs that somewhat resemble humans staring off into it, like three headed monster. How do we make it into something that has more emotional impact? Well, we need to make our subject read as a recognizable shape. Remember, we only have the outlines to tell a story. Subtle details and emotional expressions are lost in a silhouette.
That's why we often see profiles and cameos. A lot more information is given by the nose and the chin, than the ears. It's funny, when shooting normally, I'm always encouraging people to get closer that what seems natural. But when they do it in silhouette, I've got to encourage the opposite. They need to pull apart a bit and allow for light to fall between them. Since I said I'd start with the ground and work my way up, let's do that. We'll talk about the legs first. I've got some pretty concrete rules for my silhouettes that I try incorporate when shooting.
I love to see the legs a bit further apart. While I don't see all of their bodies fully separated in this image, I do see four legs and I see a lot of detail. I'll often ask them when standing sideways to me, to have one leg in front of the other, allowing me to see both legs. If I'm going for a romantic image, I will request a flirty skirt, you know, that has shape and flow to it, and even heels if they're up for it. Let's take a closer look at this silhouette. Here you can see the details of the little heel up in the air and you can see that hair blowing in the wind.
And you can see that defined waist. Even thought their pressed together, they gap in the chin to the neck, that's goin' on between them, creates enough space to tell what's going on, a sweet little kiss on the cheek. These kids are used to me taking their photo and are great at listening to posing cues. They know just what I'm looking for in terms of posing. This shot has two different leg positions. As you can see, both are great options. Each creates a different look and it's good to be able to see how each leg position affects the shape of the outline, as it makes a big impact.
With this silhouette, you can have people face you or they can face away from you. It really doesn't matter to the camera and sensor. I found some people are more comfortable with turning away from me fully. They're able to focus on their whole body movements and posture without worrying that they are making you know, goofy expressions or doing something wrong. See how each of their legs have separation and their hands are away from their bodies? It makes for a wonderful family photo that can be printed big and will stand the test of time. Because I'm creating a very flat image out of a three-dimensional space, I will do things that feel unnatural in typical photography.
I'll explain that I will need to see their full profile and will yell noses. They will know then instead of looking lovingly into their partner's eyes, that they sort of have to fake it and they have to make sure the profile of their nose is fully visible to me. Sometimes looking at their shoulder instead of in their eyes is the way to accomplish that. Here's an example of a silhouette I love because I can see the interaction between the kids and the parents. Because I can see all their noses, because their faces are in profile, it really makes this image shine. Picking angles and creating separation is important. Here's a photo taken at an engagement session of my friend shooting.
Can you see what they are doing? It isn't super easy to tell. Here's the same shot from my point of view. I wasn't loving the composition. There isn't any separation. I couldn't read that they were on bikes instantly. It isn't my favorite. So I had them set the bikes so could I see their outline. I had them turn their bikes towards me. They had to hold onto them, because they would just tip over in the wet sand, even with the kickstand. But holding onto the bikes and leaning in, it's awkward. It's fine, but who holds onto the front of their bikes to lean in for a kiss.
Yeah, it's odd. I didn't give up though. I decided I needed to get them riding. I zoom my lens out as wide as I could and the sky was so incredible. I was able to capture that big sky I love and get a natural photo of them riding. So much better. There is separation and you can see what they're doing. There were a lot of frames that I rejected. I only gave the couple a few images total. This one didn't make the cut. They were riding away from each other. What sort of story is this telling for a newly engaged couple? It isn't the one I wanted to tell.
Another reason some got rejected was they were just riding too far away. Plus the dark wave is cutting the rider off. Dark lines running through the subject breaks the subject up in way that's just undesirable. Back to my favorite shot of the night. I really was really pushing the envelope on this composition. Having them be so small with such a big sky told a story of a long and beautiful journey, but any smaller and it would have failed. But much bigger or zooming in, it would have had a totally different emotional impact. I was so excited about that killer sky and low tide at sunset that only happens once or twice a month, that I convinced my family to head to the beach the next night with me.
I wanted to try and get a photo of all three of my kids jumping. Thought it would be a fun shot to get. Yeah, it's harder than it looks. I set my camera to rapid fire so I could get the photos in succession, just in case I caught one of all three of them jumping at the same time. Even with rapid fire it didn't work. It was sort of funny. I kept failing but they were cute. This one I kind of love. It looks like they're cheering my eldest daughter on, but I learned, that girl can jump. So, I shooed the other kids out of the frame and they came and stood by me and I got down really, really low, as I wanted my daughter to look extra high.
I didn't want the shoreline to hit her midbody or around her head. I set the camera to rapid fire and I got this series of images. It was easy to pick the winner out of this set. Okay, so let's go back and look at that first image again. It's nailed everything I like. I see all four limbs, arms are separated from the body, people have waists, I even see the fingers and toes and shoelaces. Hair has texture and even the profile shows an open mouth and there's sand frozen in action. It has everything I look for in posing a silhouette, but it makes me laugh.
It's nailed every single last element and it's gone too far. You don't need every element. You need to have some of them. If your subject listens too well, it will look a little too fake, way too composed, and it'll be a little distracting. So, here are photos of the couple standing instead of jumping. There are elements of each that I like. I even like the one of them facing the sun, not giving me their noses, but I do see their ears and I still see separation. There are gaps between their arms and their bodies and I see the legs on him and I see the skirt on her.
It works. It has some of the elements, but not all of them. Each of these four have something going on for them and they tell a slightly different story. It's up to you to decide what you want the image to communicate and what story you want to tell.
In this course, photographer Erika Thornes demonstrates shooting techniques for several kinds of silhouette scenarios, from people to trees and more. She explores the lighting conditions that work best for silhouettes, and shoots several examples. The course concludes with an exploration of post-processing techniques that accentuate shapes and bring out lighting.
- Getting the shot
- Changing angle
- Exposing for the sky
- Using AE lock
- Setting exposure compensation
- Using Shutter Priority mode
- Selecting a lens
- Fixing the horizon
- Adjusting contrast and blacks
- Using the Targeted Adjustment tool
- Adjusting HSL (hue, saturation, and luminance)
- Using the histogram
- Fixing banding and haloing