Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Silhouettes

This week, Patti Moed has hit upon one of my favorite photographic styles, the silhouette. she notes that the dark outline against a brighter background is a great technique because of the drama, mystery, emotion, and atmosphere that is added to a photo. You can read her entire challenge post here. The first example I can share is actually my first published attempt at the genre. At the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, the late afternoon sun was in a perfect position for me to share the silhouette of a majestic old mesquite tree. Of all the trees in the world, the gnarly shapes of the mesquite’s branches make the species my favorite.

Sunsets are the best times for silhouettes, obviously. Put the sun behind an object and set the exposure for a brighter sky or background. The subject automagically turns dark and presto, you have a silhouette! The island off the shore of Mazatlan made a great sun block to put the beach and palm trees into the shadow.

One of those basic “rules” of photography is, “Never shoot into the sun.” If there was ever a rule to be broken, this one sure is. The image of this horse and rider provides a much more mysterious and dramatic tone to what would otherwise be a rather pedestrian photo of someone on a horse.

The late afternoon sun and bright sky helped to create this image of a lone climber scaling one of the many climbing peaks in Colorado Springs’ iconic city park, Garden of the Gods.

One of the advantages of working with RAW digital images directly as they are downloaded from the camera is the wide latitude for exposure adjustment you can make after the image was captured. This shot of the Alaskan coastline in Glacier Bay National Park was captured on a cloudy but fairly bright day. Converting it to a black-and-white image and then lowering the exposure added drama and mystery that is enhanced by the low hanging clouds.

For comparison, this is the original photo modified only by basic edits in Adobe Lightroom. The image was exposed at 1/250 sec.; f/8; ISO-200. From those numbers you can see the scene was quite bright and to get some detail in the landscape, I had to “wash out” the sky. By lowering the exposure setting, I was able to bring out the dramatic details in that complex sky and put the landscape into that dark and mysterious silhouette.

I will conclude this post with an image from the golden hour on Coronado Island off the coast of San Diego, California. Thanks to Patti for reminding me to review and share some of the silhouette images I’ve captured over the years. Feel free to select any image in the post. If your browser supports it, you will get a better, more detailed view.

John Steiner



  1. Beautiful gallery, John. I am especially drawn to your horse and rider shot and the climber. I love the atmospheric shots, too. There’s so much wonderful wisdom about silhouettes as well. Great post all around!

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