You don't have to be an Alfred Hitchcock aficionado to appreciate the appeal of silhouettes. In photography, skillfully composed silhouettes convey a powerful, dramatic visual message. Your primary subject is shrouded in darkness with little or no detail visible, but a shadowy outline tells a dramatic story.
If capturing a subject with little detail sounds like it's at odds with everything you've learned about taking pictures, you're right. Silhouettes are a result of striking contrast in a picture, but creating these kinds of images means breaking the rules of proper exposure. In other words, silhouettes are a way to blast apart normal picture-taking protocol with your rebellious creative spirit.
You can manipulate many scenes to create a silhouette. You'll just need to maneuver yourself so that a bright light source, such as a sunset, stadium lights or another form of illumination, is behind your subject.
Because silhouettes inherently lack almost all of the color and detail of non-silhouetted pictures, these kinds of images rely heavily on strong, clever composition. Sharp focus is important: A crisp, recognizable shadow makes the picture easier to process visually.
Your camera's automatic modes will likely produce mixed results when you're trying to capture silhouettes. Auto modes are calibrated to take pictures with even, consistent exposures. Silhouettes, on the other hand, require very strong contrast and exposures that your automatic camera's brain would consider incorrect.
However, many point-and-shoot digital cameras are equipped with a sunset mode that's designed to let you take pictures of the bright, colorful skies that often accompany sunrise and sunset. Sunset mode often works quite well for capturing silhouettes, maintaining an accurate exposure of the sky while darkening objects in the foreground.
If your camera has sunset mode, be sure to check out your manual for more details on this feature. In some cameras, the sunset mode boosts color levels [source: Macworld] to make the sky more dramatic, which may or may not be helpful depending on the picture you want.
Not sure how to capture silhouettes using your camera? Keep reading to learn some helpful techniques. We'll help you craft dreamlike, powerful silhouettes -- and creepy shadows that would make even Hitchcock proud.