Shooting Challenge: Silhouettes

By Martin Snelling on at

Due to the sheer volume of entries and, quite frankly, lame excuses as to why you lot failed to submit entries for the last Shooting Challenge, I’ve decided to make things a lot easier with this week’s challenge. It’s still a lot of fun; there’s room for plenty of experimentation, but the challenge doesn’t require as much time and effort on your part. Perfect for this heatwave, you could say.

If you were in attendance at last week’s unofficial Giz meet-up at Intel's Triptych party, you’ll already have had prior knowledge as to this week’s challenge, and so I’m expecting some class submissions from you guys.


The Challenge:

This week I want you to look into the light and capture a stunning silhouette. I’m going to be an utter bastard now; images of shadows will not be accepted -- they must be silhouettes.


The Technique:

Shooting a silhouette is quite straightforward and you can get some pretty amazing images especially if your composition is spot-on.

So, what is a silhouette? Basically, it’s an image where the main subject is in complete shadow because of a strong backlight. The light source can be anything from the sun, a light bulb, street lamp or even a camera flash. As long as there’s a strong light behind your subject and your camera or phone app exposure value is based off the light source and NOT the subject, you can achieve a strong silhouette.

Things to think about:
• Composition – Think about where your subject is placed in the image and try to observe the ‘rule of thirds’*
• Time of day – Consider shooting at sunrise or sunset for some stunning background colours.
• Clouds can also add drama to images (see our week one Shooting Challenge winner)
• Metering – Set your camera/phone to center or spot metering and get set your exposure off the light source.
• Flash off – Don’t shoot with the flash on; all you’ll do is light up the subject.

*I’ll be covering the rule of thirds in a future Shooting Challenge, but if you check your camera or phone app, you should find that it can display a grid of nine equal-sized sections on the screen. Ensure that your subject is placed along one of these lines or at the intersections to achieve a good composition.

If you find that your silhouette isn’t quite right, import the image into your photo editor of choice and adjust the Shadows/Highlights and/or Brightness/Contrast settings.


The Example:

The Observation of Trafalgar was taken by myself at The National Gallery (which is FREE and well worth a visit if you are interested in viewing some stunning paintings by artists such as Monet, van Gogh, Degas, Picasso and Constable to name but a few) on a recent trip to London. I was walking up a flight of stairs from the cloakroom and instantly saw an opportunity that I didn’t want to miss. Even though I had a backpack with two cameras (one film, one digital), my Galaxy SII was in my hand and so instinctively I went for that, as I didn’t want to miss the ‘shot’.

My app of choice was Vignette (my go-to photo app on Android) and captured a couple of images with no filter settings applied. Picking the better of the two images, I applied the Ilford Black & White filter in Vignette, and whacked it up on Flickr.

When I got home, I looked at the image again and knew it could be improved to make it more dramatic. Opening B&W image in Photoshop, and observing the ‘rule of thirds’, I extended the canvas 200 per cent to the right so that the main body of the image was in the left hand side and everything else to the right was black. This image was then exported from Photoshop and imported into Aperture and using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin I applied a filter and added a couple of control points to bring out the detail on Big Ben and Nelson’s Column.

Job done…

If you need further inspiration, have a look at the Silhouette Flickr Group.


The Rules:

- Submissions MUST be your own work.
- Photos must be taken after the challenge was published; so no portfolio shots please. Those who were at the recent Gizmodo UK / Intel meetup and took images at the event are permitted to submit those.
- Explain, briefly in your submission email, the equipment, settings, technique used and the story behind the shot. Please ensure EXIF info is intact (if image was taken digitally).
- Email submissions to, not me.
- Please ensure your image is at least 600px wide and less than 3MB in size.
- Save your image as a JPG, and use the following naming convention FirstnameLastnameSilhouette.jpg
- Don’t forget to include a shooting summary (see above).
- Send your best photo (only one submission per person) by Monday, August 6th at 10am UK time with “Go into the light” in the subject line.
- Anyone can enter, regardless of location.
- The most important rule — HAVE FUN!

Martin Snelling is a Hampshire-based man about town who works in the videogame industry. A keen photographer, Martin shoots on film and digital; he blogs here, and tweets here.