Camera settings for silhouette photography.
Learn how to balance exposure and create contrast with your camera's manual settings to capture dramatic silhouettes.
In silhouette photography, photographers rely on shapes to tell a story. A solid, shadowed image of a subject is set against a bright background, creating a stark contrast for visual interest. While the effect has a dramatic reward, it takes a little camera prep to get it just right. Let's explore what that can look like.
Settings for stunning silhouette photos.
With silhouette photography, you'll want to "trick" your camera into underexposing your subject, which you can achieve by working with its manual settings. Here’s a helpful, quick guide:
- ISO. Capture your photo with the lowest ISO possible, ideally around 100. This will keep out the noise — especially in intentionally dark areas — and result in a crisp outline of your subject.
- Aperture. Narrow apertures will help keep everything in focus — whether that’s multiple subjects in the foreground or a moon in the background. Aim for an f-number of f/8 or f/11.
- Shutter speed. Start with a moderate speed and take a couple of test shots to get your exposure just right. Too slow of a shutter speed will highlight unwanted details of your subject, while too fast will result in too dark of an overall image.
- Flash. Double-check that any external flash is off. Otherwise, your camera will automatically try to expose your subject, undoing all of your hard work.
If you're having difficulty getting the exposure just right, switch to your camera's spot metering mode if available and point the focus to the background — i.e., the brightest part of your image. This reading can work as a guide to help adjust your aperture and shutter speed to the correct settings.
Don't be afraid to experiment with other photography techniques, too — like taking multiple exposures and combining them in post-processing for the desired silhouetted effect. When you're ready to edit, transform raw images into breathtaking photos. Explore everything you can do with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.