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  20. Silhouettes and Flare

One quick way to create an image that’s quite arresting is to create a silhouette:

This is very easy really - just place your subject between yourself and the light, and then underexpose your subject until it goes completely dark. If me saying “underexpose” has just caused you to fly into a panic, don’t - I mean make it darker, but as you know, if you want a fuller technical education, then my technical foundations course will be right up your street.

The main thing to look for when creating a silhouette is finding something that retains it’s shape when it’s just a solid block and an outline. Be on the look out for distinctive shapes, and specific moments that lend themselves to this:

as not everything suits being just an outline. Of course, you may find yourself combining several shortcuts in one image. If you were paying attention to that first silhouette I showed you’ll have noticed that not only is it a silhouette, but that I’m looking up and using the sky as a backdrop, and that I’ve shot at the moment when his hand is reaching higher up the rope, rather than when both his hands are on, as it’s a more dramatic point of movement. The more you practice these shortcuts, the more they’ll become second nature and automatic!

You can create a silhouette by placing the light source directly behind your subject, but you can achieve some very interesting effects by changing this angle just a little, so that some of the light is visible around your subject, and some light falls on them. This is know as shooting into the light (“Contre Jour” if you’re feeling fancy):

It very often creates something called “flare” which is when light spills directly into the lens:

This trick has become very popular in recent years, probably because it makes an image taken on a modern digital camera feel like something taken on a cheap disposable one from 40 years ago, and for some reason people go mad for that!

I’d suggest you use it sparingly, like all these tricks, as overuse can easily look really cheesy and artificial. You’ll find that the degree of flare you get can vary hugely from even the smallest movement of the camera and your subject. In these 2 images:

my camera only moves a few inches, but so much more of the sun becomes visible behind the model that the amount of flare is dramatically different. As with lots of the other tricks and shortcuts - experiment, and play around with it and find what works for you.