Category Archives: Uncategorized

Creating Silhouettes

This image of a shorebird at sunset was captured on the west coast, in San Diego.

This image of a shorebird at sunset was captured on the west coast, in San Diego.

Silhouettes use shape and contrast to create a timeless, dramatic and often emotional image. Lacking detail, a photo is taken to its simplest structure, however, to create the best silhouettes a bit of technical know-how mixed with the artistic eye is needed.

As with many photo techniques there are multiple ways to get the desired effect, so I will share my favorites. Start with these suggestions and modify them to your needs as you incorporate them into your personal style.

These Great Blue Herons were active well before sunrise, when the pre-dawn pinks and blues were just beginning.

These Great Blue Herons were active well before sunrise, when the pre-dawn pinks and blues were just beginning.

These courting Great Blue Herons were cooperatively active at sunrise in Florida.

These courting Great Blue Herons were cooperatively active at sunrise in Florida.

This image of a single Great Blue Heron was taken the day after the image above. Every day can be very different in the same location!

This image of a single Great Blue Heron was taken the day after the image above. Every day can be very different in the same location!

First, with your camera on a tripod, position yourself so that your subject is placed in front of the bright part of the scene, without distractions blending with the subject (like a tree branch across the face).

Next, using the aperture-priority mode of your camera is often best in this case, determine if you want the background to be as sharp as possible (like the big ball of the sun in the images to the right). If so, use a small aperture like f/16 or f/22. If you want your background out of focus use a larger aperture like f/2.8 or f/4.

Most cameras have an ‘evaluative’ or ‘matrix’ metering mode which reads the light throughout the scene. If using this mode, begin by setting your exposure compensation to EV -2.0. This may need to be adjusted according to the contrast of the scene. An EV of -2.0 will make your subject black, as desired, and help eliminate any clipped highlights so you have proper color throughout the scene.

This sunset was over an island off the coast of Honduras.

This sunset was over an island off the coast of Honduras.

This sunset over Cape May Point looks tropical.

This sunset over Cape May Point looks tropical.

Cape May Point is a wonderful place to photograph. An EV -1.0 was perfect for this capture.

Cape May Point is a wonderful place to photograph. An EV -1.0 was perfect for this capture.

Another option would be to use your cameras ‘spot-meter’ mode and place the meter’s spot on the brightest part of the scene. In this case, using the manual mode is best to be sure that your exposure settings do not change when you compose your image.

This frog was lit from behind by the sun. Though the sun is not in the image, it was bright enough to give me this silhouette using an EV -1.0.

This frog was lit from behind by the sun. Though the sun is not in the image, it was bright enough to give me this silhouette using an EV -1.0.

Sunsets and sunrises are not always needed for a background. Here the palm fronds and tropical leaves were lit by the sun.

Sunsets and sunrises are not always needed for a background. Here the palm fronds and tropical leaves were lit by the sun.

As shown in the above two images, you do not always require a sunset or sunrise as long as it is a bright background with few distractions.

You may need to do some clean-up in post-processing, but remember, creating the best image possible in-camera will give you the best image possible after post processing.

Understanding Light: Patience 2

Wind River Sunset Silhouette

As the sun slipped behind the mountain, it offered a wonderful silhouette.

While backpacking through the Wind River Range, WY in the early 1990’s, we climbed through Cube Rock Pass to Peak Lake on an overcast, rainy day. Although the scenery was beautiful, the flat light and messy conditions did now allow for much photography. We set up camp above Peak Lake and began dinner preparation late in the day. Just as we were ready to eat, the clouds began to part and reveal our surroundings.

Peak Lake in clouds

This images shows Peak Lake in cloud cover.

As the clouds opened, revealing the sky and welcomed sun rays, I dropped my meal and grabbed my camera and tripod… set up along the lake, taking a few images as I waited for the right moment. Remember… 1990’s were still the film days. I was using Kodak Ektachrome E100SW.

Peak Lake clouds parting

As the clouds parted I tried different exposure combinations… exposing for the sky, the clouds and the reflection in the lake and the rocks.

The above image was exposing for the sunlight falling on the rocks… but really it was the ‘shapes’ of the rocks against the sky that caught my attention, so I under-exposed to make the rocks a silhouette, giving me the final image at the beginning of this post.

–Kevin Loughlin

Nikon N8008s
Tokina 20-35
Kodak E100SW film
Exposure info not recorded

Understanding Light: Patience

Adirondack Canoe

I waited, patiently, for the clouds to pass in front of the sun for this image.

Understanding light along with the patience to study and wait for the light to be just right is a key element to creating images others will enjoy. The image above was taken using Kodachrome 200 slide film, two decades ago while on a multi-day canoe trip, with a friend, in the Adirondacks of New York. Over the years it has been one of my most popular sellers.

The image was not a pre-planned set-up. My camping buddy had risen earlier than I did that day and when I heard him paddling about, I unzipped my tent to the chilly morning and saw the sun ablaze over the mist-covered lake. Once I set up my tripod I found I could not get the angle I wanted on the scene, and as I played I took just a few images. It was film after all.

Adirondack Canoe - full sun

This image was how the scene appeared when I first set up my tripod.

As I watched my friend paddle around a bit, the glare from the sun’s reflection was very prominent. However, I noticed that the clouds were moving slowly east and as I waited patiently for the right position over the sun, I told my friend to put his hat back on. A small detail, but well worth adding. I took a couple more images. Film, remember? and was happy with this final image… clouds helping to reduce the sun glare. The mist over the lake. My friend, paddling the canoe in his favorite hat.

–Kevin Loughlin

Nikon N8008s
Tokina 20-35 @ 35
Kodachrome 200
Exposure info not recorded