digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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Silhouette Photography Tips – 3 Keys to Great Photos

What started as an interview with photographer Erika Thornes rapidly turned into a silhouette photography tutorial.

Watch while she explains the basic tips for shooting good silhouette photos and then goes through a digital workflow using Lightroom. If you've always wanted to know how to shoot silhouette portraits, this could be the best 40 minutes you've spent in a long time.

  • learn the best angle for silhouette photography (and what to do if you can't get it right)
  • where to stand and where to place the light source
  • how to correctly expose a silhouette portrait
  • tips for creating images that microstock agencies are dying to have
  • Lightroom processing tips for best results
  • how to get a stunning reflection in the water
Silhouette picture of a young couple on beach with bicycles
Silhouette photo of a young couple bicycling down the beach who stop to kiss

Silhouette Photography Digital Workflow Examples With Lightroom

3 Keys To Great Silhouette Photography


  • Get low – and if you can't get low enough, get your subjects up higher
  • Full bodies – subjects should be full length
  • Sky dominates – the horizon should be towards the lower third in the image
  • Light source – the subject should be between you and the light source
Photographers child in silhouette while jumping on the beach.
Photographer's child in silhouette while jumping on the beach. Erika shows exactly how this shot was achieved in the video above.


  • Emotion – silhouettes must capture more emotion than you do in a portrait
  • Meaning – viewer needs to be able to understand in an instant what's happening in the picture

Good separation means that you can clearly see what's happening in the image. The edges are sharp and clearly defined. Separation is the opposite of clumping.

Silhouette Photography Child With Pail


  • Expose for the sky – set your camera to meter off the sky. Make sure it's not overexposed.
  • No blinkies – check your histogram for blinkies. There shouldn't be any.

Couple Kissing in Silhouette

children with balloons in silhouette

silhouette picture of children on a beach with hearts

family in silhouette

BONUS: Lightroom processing tips For silhouettes

Erika discusses lightroom processing tips around the 19 minute mark on the video including these:

  • pump up the brights on the tone curve
  • don't mess with the saturation
  • adjust your blacks

and finally, some tips on creating reflections off the water

How to create reflection off the water in your photographs

surfers with surf boards in silhouette
Surfers with surf boards in silhouette with reflection below them

Getting a good reflection is actually about the beach and the tide. The two key points are that you must have a flat beach and you have to have a negative tide of -1 or -2 feet below sea level.

Silhouette photography in a nutshell: “Get low and just shoot everything in raw format. Then just adjust color balance in Lightroom.”

I'd like to thank Erika for taking the time with me in what turned out to be a silhouette photography tutorial. Recently we we learning about beach photography tips and this tutorial has expanded on that nicely.

erika thornes photographer

About Erika Thornes

Erika is a San Diego based photographer that spends a lot of her time at, or thinking about, the beach.

In her own words “I strive to learn, and love teaching. It is my goal to discover something new each day. I openly share what I learn, and encourage others. My goal, as a photographer, is to make art for you to treasure; that will hang on your grand children’s walls in 50 years. I want the photos to be something that becomes a family gift and heirloom that will bring a sense of history that freezes a moment in time for your family.”

Find Erika on Google+ and Facebook.

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lightroom alternative photo editing software

  • Geoff Wilkinson

    Great tutorial, I enjoyed it very much and looking forward to putting these tips into practice.

  • Hi Darlene, another very useful session, keep it up.


  • Jody

    Cool idea! Will have to give this a try in the future.
    Darlene, could you talk about metering? As a student of photography still I hear “bettering” spoken about. What is it and how to you meter “for” something, like the sky in this case?
    Thank you.

    • Have you watched the whole interview Jody? Erika explains how she does that in the video. If you’ve watched and it still doesn’t make sense let me know.

  • Great tutorial!!! Thanks!

  • Nice tutorial. I really got a lot of useful information out of this one. It was nice to hear more specifics on how it was done and for Erika to show us her bad/good examples in lightroom to help illustrate her points. I’d love to have see more along these lines w/specific examples and how-tos.

    Thanks for your hard work in putting all this together Darlene!

  • Steven

    these are excellent tips. I like the tip about standing on the park table. I could not have thought of it.

  • John

    I liked the tutorial. Lots of good tips, especially regarding processing. Though, what perplexes me the most is how does she protect her camera if she is rolling around in the water and sand?

  • Paul

    Really excellent interview Darlene thanks, I learnt a lot. You covered just the ground I would want you too as a relative beginner! I was curious about her camera, and especially her lenses – prime or zoom?

    • Hi Paul, thanks glad you enjoyed it. I’m not sure but I think she uses zoom lenses. I don’t think that really matters so much as the other factors mentioned in the video. You can create this look using just about any lens. If you have a beach at your disposal you may want a wide lens to get the reflections off the sand/water at low tide like she is doing. Other times you may want more isolation of your subject so a longer lens is applicable then. There is no one size fits all for photography.

  • Linda Rogoff

    What are some examples of camera settings in the above photos.

    • Did you watch the video Linda? I think she covered that in the interview.

  • I’m intimidated by Photoshop, but this looks totally user friendly!

  • your photography style looking good

  • Karen Boggs

    I am reading this a couple of years after it was posted. There is no video. I tried refreshing. Was the video removed? Also, what are blinkies (number three says “check your histogram for blinkies)? I’ve done silhouettes with inanimate objects and I am planning a wedding shoot in March, one of my ideas was to do a silhouette of the couple.

  • Hi Darlene, Really Cool ..You made an another very useful session, keep it up .Really excellent really it is..

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