The image shown here is the work of one of our guest contributors to the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Pool: Mlss Lujansky. As of this writing, Mlss Lujansky is not an official member of the group, but I asked her to share this particular untitled photo because it is one of the best uses of silhouette photography I’ve seen. This is actually a shot of Amanda Palmer – who I admit I know very little about. But that’s besides the point – it’s the photo that interests me.
First lets talk about the obvious points. Obviously, if you’re looking to do a successful silhouette shot, you’ll need to make sure the primary light source is behind the subject. The second obvious fact is that, since you will lose all of the detail of the subject, you’ll need to make sure the silhouette is interesting. Lujansky’s subject, Amanda Palmer, is doing – well, we don’t know what she’s doing. But we can deduct from the framing and the visible context that she’s probably putting on some sort of show. That is, in fact, what draws me to this image – jumping humans, romantic embraces and suggestive portraiture are common themes in silhouette photography. Capturing a performance is unique because it is so hard to do. You really need the right context, and a bunch of people standing around the performer – well away from her, in fact – on the beach is one of those ideal circumstances. This shot tells a story, and the viewer is left to ponder what’s really happening in the image. Any time the viewer is drawn into a shot, the photograph is successful.
The EXIF data tells me that this was shot at f/22 with a shutter speed of 1/250 at a focal length of 21mm. I want you to pay close attention to that focal length. It’s fairly wide, which has a tendancy to make the subject appear deeper into the frame than they really are – the closest object appearing much farther from the lens than in actuality. This wide focal length is essential for two aspects of this to work. The first is making sure the sun is behind the subject. I would expect that this shot was actually taken mid-day and the sun was quite high in the sky. The wider focal length allows the photographer to get close enough to Ms. Palmer so that the sun is behind her head and without losing the context of the shot – her audience. The second aspect is the relative porportion of the audience members as compared to the main subject. They may only be standing about 20-25 feet away, but they are dwarfed in comparison to Ms. Palmer. This of course establishes heirarchy and clearly defines Ms. Palmer as the main subject. But it also makes the audience a pereferal – but essential – aspect of the photo.
The shutter speed is another item you should pay close attention to. 1/250 is much slower than you would typically see on a shot back-lit by the sun. The sun is incredibly bright and would shoot your sensor way off the charts, even if a subject is placed between you and the sun. You can’t expose for the subject because then the shot would be too bright. You can’t expose for the sun because the bright edges will bleed into the subject. To get it right, you really need to expose for an arbitrary point in the clouds, or just flip it into manual mode and hack at it yourself. Mlss Lujansky chose the latter, and she picked a perfect shutter speed. The shutter speed chosen makes for a good clean line between sunlight and shadow, and it provides just enough detail of the ground and surrounding individuals to give you some relative context. It also exposes the clouds with that erie glow.
My only complaint about the photo is that there appears to be a lot of dust and particles on the lens. Some of the spots I am certain are actually objects being tossed in the air by the crowd. But there are at least a handful of dust spots present. But I don’t necessarily think they detract from the image.
So if you’re interested in silhouette photography, I would suggest adding this shot to your favorites so that you can reference it down the line. As you can see form my review, there is certainly a lot to be learned from this photograph, and it would be in your best interest to study it closely.
View the photo at Flickr: (Untitled) by Mlss Lujansky