How to Set Up Silhouette Studio Lights

By Cassandra Cochrun ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Camera
  • A back light, usually a lamp, floodlight or specialty studio light
  • Lighting stand
  • Umbrella or soft box (found at photography stores)
  • A honeycomb tray to fit over the light source (found at photography stores)

Photographing silhouettes means photographing a subject placed in front of a bright light, shadowing everything toward the camera. Using this technique, the subject that you photograph appears as a dark outline or figure against a bright background. This can have a wonderful artistic effect, leaving part of the subject to the viewer's imagination, but you must be careful about the way you set up the shot.

Set Up the Lighting and Shoot the Scene

Place the subject in front of your light source. Use a lighting stand to place your lamp where the sun would be in a natural setting.

Place an umbrella or soft box over the light source to achieve more light. This diffuses the lamplight, making the source appear more sunlike.

If you wish, fit a honeycomb tray over the light source. Honeycomb trays help prevent the light from directly hitting the camera lens, which causes flare.

Set the aperture as narrow as possible. A narrow aperture will help the shot be more in focus and captures the scene with a higher depth-of-field.

Set the shutter speed as fast as possible. A good way to know how fast to go is to set the camera to automatic mode and shoot the scene. See what shutter speed the camera used, and turn it up one or two more times.

Turn off the flash. If you leave the flash on, it will light up your subject instead of silhouetting it.

If you're using a point-and-shoot (as opposed to a SLR or DSLR), point the camera at the background and not the subject. A point-and-shoot camera, if pointed at the subject, will recognize the subject and try to light it.

Shoot the scene. If you're using auto mode to shoot, point the camera at the brightest part of the scene, push the shutter button halfway down, then point the camera where you want to shoot and push the button the rest of the way down. This will "trick" the camera into silhouetting your subject.

Tip

Don't make your background too complicated. Keep the silhouette the most prominent thing in the picture.

Choose a strong subject. Remember that silhouettes don't have color, texture or tone, so make sure the shape is interesting.

If you're silhouetting a person, keep him in profile. Profiles are more interesting and more recognizable in silhouette.

Warning

Make sure your back light is strong enough. If the back light is too dim, the subject will be a soft gray instead of black.

Minimize light reflection on the front of the subject. This will ruin the silhouette.

If you're shooting more than one silhouetted subject, keep them separated. If you don't, they will appear to be one subject instead of two.