Silhouettes In Nature

I love to photograph at dawn and dusk
Click Images To Enlarge This Article Features Photo Zoom

I love to photograph at dawn and dusk. I also love the light when the sun hovers near the horizon. If there are clouds in the sky, the color can be magnificent. If the sky is clear just before the sun rises or after it sets, the cobalt blue color provides a wonderful backdrop. Shooting into this light means it's time to turn your thoughts to silhouettes. If you try to reveal detail in a subject, you'll lose the intensity, drama and color in the sky. So, expose for the sky and let your subject go black. The drama it produces can be very rewarding.

SUBJECT MATTER: Look for a subject that has distinct shape and form. It will be reduced to black, so its essential, its outline has character. For instance, a large boulder will appear as a huge black blob and have no interest. On the other hand, a bare winter deciduous tree with intriguing branch formations sky-lined against a dramatic sky is ideal. Make sure most, if not all, of the subject is sky-lined. If part of it merges with the horizon, it will result in an image where you can't tell the difference between the horizon line and the subject.

COMPOSITION and EXPOSURE: If the sky has extreme drama, zoom out and have the clouds dominate. Shoot verticals and horizontals and place the subject in the rule of thirds. For the sake of diversity, zoom the lens to its telephoto setting to place the emphasis on the silhouette. Be careful how you meter. The more space the silhouetted area takes up in the composition, the more you'll need to compensate to the minus side to maintain detail and color in the sky. Check the histogram and LCD to see how much is necessary. Work quickly and efficiently as the color doesn't last long. Bracket to help ensure you get the result you want. Be sure to cover the necessary depth of field. Stop the lens down and make the photo. Zoom into the image on the LCD to make sure the subject and sky hold focus. If one or the other is soft, close down more. Chromatic aberrations show up more readily around a silhouette, so be sure to zoom into the image at 100% and correct any outline of color in post-processing.

ADVANCED PLANNING: In your travels, whether it's close to home or a brand new photo destination, do a bit of scouting. Look for subjects that have a distinct shape and return to them at sunrise and sunset. Before you make a commitment to do so, take a compass or GPS reading to see if the potential subject can be sky-lined against an eastern or western horizon. Know that in the summer, the sun rises further north. Is the subject in the proper place at the proper time of the year? Learn all the behind-the-scenes facts, so you'll know whether or not the desired shot will work.


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