I was experimenting with silhouettes early one morning in Kauai, HI. The camera was triggered with a wireless shutter release (was thankful I didn’t have to scramble back and forth through the sand and rocks using the self-timer). I’m sure that someone thinks that there’s only one right way to shoot silhouettes but my preference is to error on the side of slightly overexposing relative to a completely black silhouette. This varies based on the background but I want to make sure to get enough detail in the non-silhouetted portions of the photo. Of course I could composite multiple exposures but I find it simpler to use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to reduce the exposure in the appropriate areas to get a complete silhouette if that’s what I’m after. Often there’s no need for this extra work though — I usually can get I what I want in-camera (I did with this one). Shooting brackets isn’t a bad idea either if you’re unsure. The textures were added via OnOne Perfect Photo Suite.
Our family went on a great camping trip in Central Texas this past weekend. I woke up at about 5 am on Saturday morning and stepped outside to amazing skies. I thought to try my hand at some night sky photography but had no idea where my camera, tripod, and wide-angle lens were at the moment. Of course I was not about to shine a light and go looking for things, especially with our 4-month old soundly asleep. So, Saturday night I set the appropriate gear out in case I woke up early Sunday morning. I *did* wake up early and spent a bit of time trying to get some good images of the stars. I experimented with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and found some reasonable combinations. Only later did I hear of the “600 rule” which says that for these night shots you should set your max shutter duration to 600 divided by your focal length if you want to avoid obvious star trails. My results roughly correlate with that. A quick internet search yields all sorts of information about night sky photography and post-processing by stacking images…I’ll leave it to you readers to do that research if you’re interested. I may dig deeper someday myself.
I tried a bit of light painting in an attempt to barely show the trees and add interest to the photo but all I had was a Streamlight brand flashlight (an amazingly bright little pocket flashlight which I highly recommend). I first of all didn’t want to disturb any campers and then even when I could shine the light away from other campers it was simply too bright to have reasonable control over the exposure.
I believe the glow on the horizon is from San Antonio. The city is quite far but a long exposure will pick that up quite a bit. The camera is definitely pointing toward the city.
In the image above you can see a faint shooting star to the lower left of the milky way clouds (kind of tough to see at this size). In the shot below I captured a more obvious shooting star but the overall image is kind of boring. I did minimal processing on these — noise reduction, slight contrast adjustments.
My daughter and I watched the birds and the sunrise last Saturday on the beach in Port Aransas, TX. The weather was perfect and the Gulf was the calmest I’ve ever seen it. While I was playing around with photo stuff, my daughter waded out. I told her to freeze for some silhouettes and captured many photos like the one above. I underexposed a bit to be sure to produce a dark silhouette — the goal being to avoid any detail in the subject of course. Processing consisted of basic adjustments in Lightroom, including some purposely heavy contrast/clarity. I debated whether to clone out the birds streaking across the frame…I obviously elected to leave them in. There were a lot of interesting looks I could have gone for in this image and I had trouble deciding what I liked best.
One consideration in shots like this is the height of the camera. Low to the ground results in a lot more sky as opposed to beach and water. It also places the silhouette mostly against the sky which is generally nice IMO. Camera placement high off the ground — say standing height — gives more water and beach, plus a longer reflection/shadow of the subject on the water. There’s no “right” choice. In a beach situation I prefer to show more water in the shot but you have to be careful about having the horizon cut through the subject’s head and things like that if you place the camera too high (see image below — it’s OK, but not my preference). I think the shot above strikes a reasonable balance.
Later I played around with flash in the mid-day sun while taking pictures of the kids playing on the beach. I’ll post some of those soon.
Sunday night I enjoyed an evening photowalk with Todd Landry and several of the local “HDR Mafia” in Austin (Atmtx, Dave Wilson, Jim Nix, and Pete Talke) . I played around with some framing under the First Street Bridge and liked the sideways ‘V’ formed by the shadows under the bridge and on the water. I shot lots of brackets for this but I only used enough to give a hint of light under the bridge. I started down the path of masking in some of a lighter exposure but in the end preferred the deep shadow and how it draws more attention to the skyline and its reflection.
I tonemapped 7 exposures in Photomatix and blended pieces of the original exposures back in. This was followed by a few curves adjustments masked in here and there, selective sharpening, and noise reduction in much of the image. I had some chromatic aberration issues which I couldn’t get to go away via Lightroom adjustments so I used a trick I learned a while back: duplicate the final background layer, do a gaussian blur of 10-15 pixels, change the blend mode to ‘color’, and selectively mask into the problem areas. Works great for the most part but can cause a little of that blur to show sometimes.
We walked over to the SRV statue on Auditorium Shores to take some panoramas of the Austin skyline just after sunset. I got some cool shots but am frankly unable to get a stitch with a decent perspective (so far). I’ll keep working on that. Meanwhile, I decided to post a couple shots I took while the guys were shooting the skyline. Both were taken with my 50mm f/1.4 lens but I experimented a bit. One image used f/1.4 in order to get extreme bokeh while the other used f/8 to tone the bokeh down and show the skyline better.
Experimentation – Silhouettes
When starting out in photography it’s always good to experiment with creative ideas. Experimentation is a great way to learn about exposure, lighting, posing, etc. You discover what works and doesn’t work and will certainly retain that knowledge better than if you had just read about those things in a book. You will also refine your own style as you try out ideas and develop a knack for particular things.
One great thing to experiment with is silhouettes. You don’t need fancy equipment — the sun, a lamp, or a flash can be used to create a silhouette. Soft, reflected light combined with shorter exposures often creates striking silhouettes in images. You might try posing someone under (or near) a streetlamp at night and then get down on the ground to shoot the silhouette. Another element you can vary is how much the silhouetted subject is exposed (as you increase the exposure you eventually lose the “silhouette” effect of course).
Here are a couple of images which I created on a whim to experiment with silhouettes. I created the first while out catching the sunrise in Rockport, TX (see some of my Rockport images here). My daughter happened to show up on the scene so I asked out her to stretch out her hand roughly in front of the sun. Not a great overall composition but it’s useful as an illustration here.
This silhouette of my son jumping on the trampoline was just an idea I had while sitting on the porch watching him jump. I got underneath the edge of the trampoline (be especially careful with larger children or you’ll end up with a concussion!) and fired away. The shot I set out to make was one of him jumping high in the air with his arms stretched out (I did get some of those). However, the way the sun flared out from my son’s hand in the following photo made this a favorite.
Have some fun and experiment with silhouettes. You’ll get some great shots, and hopefully learn a few tricks which will become a useful part of your photoshoot arsenal.