Compelling Shapes in Silhouette Images

Silhouette images can be pretty cool. This is because the high level of contrast between lights and darks, often combined with saturated colors, makes an immediate impact on the viewer. However, this visual impact makes it easy to let a mediocre image slip into your portfolio.

For this reason, I hold my silhouette images to a higher standard when it comes to the shape of the subject. The subject must have an interesting graphic shape, such as in the picture below:

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Twins : Prints Available

Two women in silhouette on beach outside XiaPu, China

This image works well because the dancer (a.k.a. my wife) knows how to pose well.

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First Light : Prints Available

Dancer exercising at sunrise on Lake Michigan

Depending on your shutter speed, you will most likely need to use a tripod and also ensure your subject is completely still. None of the edges of the silhouette should be blurred, unless you are blurring for effect.

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The Fountain : Prints Available

Elegant woman watching a fountain during a brilliant sunset

Also, in many cases, you don’t want the silhouette to go completely dark. Including a little detail in the shadows often works better than having a completely black shape. In the image below, I brought out some of the details of the lighthouse in post-processing.

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All is Well : Prints Available

Silhouette of two men fishing off a lighthouse pier during sunset

The Stories Behind the Pictures, Part 2

Sometimes it is fun to hear the details of what was going on behind the scenes when a picture was taken. With that in mind, I bring to you, “The Stories Behind the Pictures, Part 2”. If you are interested in seeing the first installment, here is a link to that blog from August, 2013:

The Stories Behind the Pictures, Part 1

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Friendship : Prints Available

Older Chinese women sitting on the stairs

I took the above shot during a trip to Guilin, China in May of 2012. There were actually three ladies in the scene, but this particular composition included just two of them. In May 2015, I was back in China. Exactly 3 years and 1 day from taking this picture, I was walking through the same village, not knowing I had been there before. My guide and I came walking around a corner and there were the three ladies. Each of them was sitting in the exact same location on the stairs as previously and wearing the exact same clothes! They liked looking at the previous picture but had no interest in a follow-up portrait.

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Clouds Over the Forest : Prints Available

Clouds over Deadvlei, Namibia’s dead tree forest

I shot the above image in Deadvlei, which is a dead tree forest in the Namibian desert. For a period of time before sunset, I had the entire place to myself… not a single person there except me. I was lining up this shot and enjoying the solitude when, out of nowhere, a group of angry bees showed up. I guess I would be angry too if I lived in the Namibian desert. The bees were after my water bottle and, for some reason, liked my camera bag too. They were apparently pretty thirsty and not taking “no” for an answer. I literally could not get into my camera bag to change lenses without getting attacked by the bees. It took me 20 minutes to get the bag away. I finally ended up kicking my water bottle away, swinging my tripod at them, grabbing my backpack and running.

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Aurora Over Iceland : Prints Available

The Northern Lights illuminating the sky over southeastern Iceland.

This image was taken in the middle of the night on the Southeastern coast of Iceland. Earlier that day, we were told by a lady from Hofn (the nearby town) to NOT pay the $4 “entrance fee” to get into the park where these mountains can be viewed. She said it was basically a scam. So, when we got to the park, we drove right past the sign demanding payment. Later that evening, we set up tents in the park to shoot the Northern Lights. All of a sudden, we see lights coming up the road. Scam or not, the Icelandic guy had shown up with his car and was now looking for us with a flashlight. This is not a fun situation. My first thought was to fold the tents up and run. My second thought was, “wait… I’m a fully grown adult.” So, I did what any fully grown adult would do in that situation… I played dumb and pretended I did not see the sign.

Foggy Lenses

Photographers have a lot of pet peeves. For those of you unfamiliar with the expression, a “pet peeve” is something specific that is particularly annoying to you. The list of pet peeves among photographers is so long that you could literally write a doctoral dissertation on the subject. But, generally, anything that can ruin a picture is included. Without a doubt, “foggy lenses” makes the top ten list. This is because it takes quite awhile for lenses to un-fog in humid conditions…. sometimes 20 minutes or more.

Lenses become foggy when you go from a cool environment (such as an air-conditioned vehicle) to a hot, humid environment. This scenario is not uncommon in photo shoots where you are jumping out of a vehicle to shoot a scene. Lenses can also fog up in very wet or humid environments, even if the camera had already adjusted to the outdoor temperature. This is common when you are shooting in the rain or next to a waterfall.

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Fog Over Ponytail Falls : Prints Available

Fog creeps through the trees overlooking Ponytail Falls

Here are a few quick tips for minimizing the risk of ruining part or all of a shoot due to a foggy lens:

1. Shut off the air-conditioning prior to the shoot. When on the way to photograph in a warm area, I try to get the environment in the car similar to the environment outside. Opening the window and dealing with some heat or humidity is well worth it.

2. Control the lens temperature with your camera bag’s zipper. If I am stuck in a cool environment and have no control over it, I’ll leave my camera bag zipped. However, if I’ve left an air-conditioned or cool temperature and am now in the car and can keep the car warm, I’ll begin to acclimate my camera and lenses by unzipping the camera bag slightly.

3. Use the air blower and lens cloth. If your lens is already fogging up, then using your air blower and lens cloth between shots to keep the lens as dry as possible is your best option.

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Wave Crash at Oceanside : Prints Available

A wave crashing on the rocky shore of Oceanside, Oregon is frozen in time

Sometimes, you are in a situation where the environment is so wet and humid that these techniques don’t solve the problem. During my recent visit to Iceland, I was photographing waterfalls close up and was getting pummeled with spray from the falls almost constantly. I was battling both water drops and fog on the lens. In those cases, you just do your best to keep the camera dry between shots and wipe the lens after each shot. Using this technique, I was able to get the pictures I wanted, but I did end up with moisture in the lens that lasted until the following day. Another photographer was photographing the same waterfall and ended up with actual water in his lens because his camera and lens did not have sufficient weather sealing. So, you need to be extra careful if you do not have a higher end camera and lens with good sealing.