Silhouette lighting can be used to create a dramatic effect for any scene. The look is a staple of movies and television. Commonly seen in mysteries and the detective genre, silhouette lighting darkens the main figure while allowing the area behind him to remain visible. Investigative news programs also use silhouette lighting to shield the identities of interview subjects such as criminal witnesses and whistle blowers. A simple setup to execute, silhouette lighting does require practice to achieve the right level of darkness.
Block out the area that will be silhouetted so that you know the space you will be filming in and how much you need to light.
Light the background with flat lighting as opposed to traditional three-point lighting. Three-point lighting uses a key light, fill light and back light. To create a flat lighting look, avoid using the fill light and back light on the background. Instead use one, or even two, key lights to create a flat light background.
Frame the subject in front of the background. The better the outline of the subject, the more dramatic the silhouette effect will look.
Light the subject from the back. Position the back light directly behind the subject for a complete blackout silhouette effect. Adjust the angle and height of the back light to your desired effect for more or less visibility.
Based in Los Angeles, Ty Wright has written professionally since 1993, working primarily in film and television. His articles have appeared online at MadeMan. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in film and electronic arts from California State University, Long Beach.