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Shooting Silhouettes

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Category: Creative

Silhouettes - Ben Boswell shares his tips on shooting silhouettes.

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Words and images by Ben Boswell - www.benboswell.co.uk

The Task

A few weeks ago ePHOTOzine asked me if I would write an article about creating silhouettes and I thought it would be fun so I agreed. Foolish of me: I needed to shoot for the article and a silhouette requires the right conditions. There have been a few days when I could have taken OK silhouettes, but for the most part, when I have been available to shoot, the weather has been very low contrast.

Here is the raw material I had to work with: effectively a series of silhouettes in varying shades of grey receding into the distance. Shot at its best this weather gives a beautiful effect, but it is pleasant even here.

Flat landscape

Don't give up!

This is what photography is about: capturing what is available and making the most of it. If you go out with a very set idea about what you plan to shoot and the conditions are not right, adapt your plans. Look at the scene and figure out what you can do to get something interesting. I found one nicely graphic silhouette and with a little tweaking of the curves made an image I quite like, but I came home without an article to write.

Fence  silhouette

silhouette silhouette silhouette



These four images approach the problem from another angle, one I rarely take. This is an image I took with my phone, it has some awful colour artifacts in the sky, but I like the graphic quality of the subject. The original is frankly unusable, but as a silhouette it has potential. The second version is effectively a binary representation, the sky is white and the wires and post are black with no detail other than the outline. This is easy to achieve in an image with such clear contrast by dropping the dark areas right off the histogram and then selecting anything that isn’t solid black and just removing it. The result is not really a photograph rather it is a piece of graphic art, but it is interesting. To make a photographic silhouette it is better, if possible, to retain some detail in either the shadows or the highlights. In the third version I have removed all the colour to get rid of the artifacts and have enhanced the contrast in the sky for a more dramatic look. The final version, which I like the best, is a crop from the last one. The only addition being a grain filter to enhance the ‘photographic’ look and to hide the fact that the original file is pretty tiny.

Both the flat countryside and the silhouettes are about contrast, making pictures with what is available and using shape as the dominant element of the composition. When the opportunity arises there are great pictures to be had with this, but don’t expect it to happen every time: the location, the weather, the light; all will determine whether there is little enough detail to make an effective silhouette.

Words and images by Ben Boswell - www.benboswell.co.uk

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