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.
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.
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.
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.