Shoot Against the Light - tyneholm
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Shoot Against the Light

Shoot Against the Light

Assignment L18

A correct exposure is really one that records a scene or subject in the way the photographer intended. Once you have fully mastered exposure, you can then manipulate it creatively. One way to do this is to use exposure to create a silhouette of your subject, by using an extreme form of “contre jour;’ or “against the light” photography, with the subject strongly backlit and recorded as a black outline, devoid of color or detail. Combined with just the right subject matter, the results can be dramatic and eye-catching. 

Anything between your camera and the sun, or the surrounding sky, can appear as a dark shape. It is important you expose for the brighter sky and not for the darker foreground, so spot meter for abright area of the sky. The exposure will be correct for the sky, but grossly underexposed for foreground subjects, creating a silhouette. 

Knowing how to create a silhouette is just part of the equation, though, as your subject choice and shooting angle will make or break your contre jour shots. Given that your subject will be devoid of color or detail, it is important to photograph a scene or subject with a strong and recognizable outline, such as a tree, building, or landmark. Select a perspective where you can isolate your subject and project it clearly against a brighter backdrop, and be careful not to include anything that distracts from your subject-simplicity often works best. Also, avoid overlapping your subject with other objects, as this will severely reduce the impact of the image. 

View the images

Technique

  • The best time of day to shoot silhouettes is when the sun is low above the horizon and the sky is bright, close to sunrise and sunset. 
  • Look for instantly recognizable subjects to silhouette, such as a skeletal tree, building, or well-known landmark. 
  • Use your camera’s Live View histogram to guide you. When shooting silhouettes, expect your histogram to be skewed to the left of the graph. While this would normally indicate incorrect exposure, in this case, underexposure is intentional and creative .
  • Remove graduated neutral density (ND) filters-for this type of image, you don’t want to record detail in the landscape.

Field Notes

  • To cast your subject into silhouette, meter for the brighter sky using spot metering mode, available on most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. This mode reads light from just a small proportion o_f the image space-typically two or three per cent. By aiming the spot-metering point at a bright area of the sky, the camera will bias settings for this area. Consequently, the darker foreground will be underexposed and rendered as silhouette.