Friday, May 29, 2009

Light Up My Life Friday - Silhouettes

Good Morning Everybody,
We had a wild and wholly Texas crowd of over 225 photogs last night - it sure seemed to me everyone had a good time. I know I did. Man, people hung around till 11:30 p.m. just talking and visiting. We are off to San Antonio on Monday - hope to see many of you there.

HELP WANTED! LaDawn wanted me to put out a call for volunteers for next week's leg of the Digital WakeUp Call tour. We head to San Antonio on Monday, Dallas on Tuesday, Ft. Worth/Arlington on Wednesday, and Oklahoma City on Thursday. Anyone wanting to lend a helping hand can contact LaDawn at and she can give you the details.

Summer Master Class - July 27-31. Just a note that my summer Master Class [link] is filling up now. Here is the link to all the info. The class is always a great time and we still have seats still available. Contact Jen or Sharon at 859-341-5900 for more info.

OK, time to get on with Light Up My Life Friday - here we go...

Light Up My Life Friday - Silhouettes
Silhouettes have been very popular with wedding photographers for many years. I can remember years ago coming out of St. Agnes Church and posing the bride and groom under one of the church's exterior arches. This kind of photograph has been a main stay for wedding photographers for years.

A funny thing about that image I made at St. Agnes - I delivered the album to the bride's home and her dad was there. He looked at the silhouette, paused, and said, "…be a good picture if you could see their faces." He is the same dad who spotted another image in the album that had been inadvertently printed backwards. I immediately owned up to my mistake and offered to get it corrected right away. He took a second look at the image, paused again, and said, "Don't bother, it shows my best side." I could hardly hold my giggles back. Yep, true story - we meet all kinds in our profession, don't we?

Anyway, hit the "Read More..." link below for the rest of the story.

But back to silhouettes - you know though, there are ways to improve on silhouette images. First of all let's start out with how we posed the bride and groom. Many photographers have the bride and groom face each other and stare into each other's eyes. A big no-no - have any of you guys and girls grabbed your "significant other's" then stared into their eyes and feel very romantic at all. I would think not - it's not natural for people to do that. It's a "photographers" standard pose and not a very good one. Frankly, it's a very stiff pose and doesn't elicit any sense of romance at all. Please read on.

A much more natural and comfortable pose is to have the bride and groom turned towards each other about 45° with the groom on the right side because I like his boutonniere on the right side of the photograph -- and the bride on the left side. Then fine-tune the pose by having the bride take her right foot and point it slightly forward. Then have the groom point his left foot slightly forward too. That puts all the weight on their inside legs and is a much more natural / believable stance.

Now simply have both of them turn their heads only towards each other and smile. I have their heads turned to a point to where I only see one half of their face -- I would call this a profile view.

Now we can light the silhouette in any number of ways. We can use the Sun, the sky, car headlights, flash gear, or even the videographers lights. In today's post we are going to use the flash.

Here is how I do it. I have my assistant hold my off-camera flash behind the bride and groom about 12 feet away, 4 feet off the ground, and pointed at their shoulder blades. The flash - my Quantum T5d - is set to ¼ power to ½ power. The camera is set to F5.6 at ISO 800. These settings give me the best results for my back-lit shots. I've talked about that many times on Digital ProTalk. Here is the link to the backlighting post I did several months ago.

There are times though when I want to modify my standard back-light routine. Occasionally I want a little light on the front of the subject as well. In that case, I may want to see a bit more detail in the subject's expression and even in their wedding attire. In that case, I want to pop just a little bit of light on the front of them.

Take a look at the accompanying photograph. This is an image of Mark and Kristen, Mark is one of my assistants, who I had the honor of photographing about a year ago.

He and his bride had one of the prettiest Cincinnati sunsets of the year. After the couple finished meeting and greeting everyone in the receiving line, we broke away to capture this photograph.

We worked our way to the top of the pavilion under which the wedding reception was taking place. By the time we got to the top the sky had still retained the last vestiges of the sunset. The blue firmament was just starting to settle into the top part of the sky. The rich colors of the Saturday evening lent themselves to a beautiful silhouette of the bride and groom.

Since this sky was getting pretty dark I decided that I didn't want their silhouette to be a stark black totally lacking in detail. Without the light being able to bounce off of anything outside, that's what would have happened.

I thought I could enhance the photograph by bringing just a little light in from my on- camera flash. This was easily accomplished by turning on the flash and then reducing its output substantially. I dropped the light output from my on-camera flash by three stops or more. I used the viewfinder to test my settings. This gave me just the right amount of light from my on-camera flash preserving just the right amount of detail to see their expressions and some detail in the wedding gown.

So in recapping, here's how I made this photograph.

1. I adjusted the camera's exposure at F5.6 to underexpose the sky about one stop.

2. I positioned my assistant behind the couple about 12 feet away, with the flash 4 feet off the ground, and pointed at their shoulder blades.

3. My on-camera flash is dialed down to -3 stops of its normal output.
DAZNOTE: I don't use a rotating flash bracket so I made the photograph with the camera in the horizontal position. If I had turned the camera into a vertical position, I would have cast the couple's shadow on the back balustrade. I think the photograph works better in horizontal position anyway as it picks up more of the evening sky.

So that's about it. The simplest of silhouettes -- the couple against a blue sky -- is probably the least dramatic of the silhouette photographs. The back-lit photographs are always my favorites. But, as I said before there are times when we want to add just a bit of light onto the front of the subjects to enhance the image a bit more. That's what I wanted to discuss today. Remember too, that is always a matter of aesthetics. What looks good to me may not be your cup of tea. I suggest just going out, experimenting with your own light settings, and have fun getting your favorite result.

Hey gang, that's it for me today. I've got to catch a plane this afternoon and fly back to Kentucky for a wedding this weekend and then back to Texas on Monday. Everybody have a great weekend and I'll see you on the flip side. Hope to see many of you in San Antonio Monday evening. Just remember, pixels like barbecue too. Adios, Dave


  1. It's great to re-visit this subject, David! One question, I assume you didn't have an umbrella or a big diffuser on the flash your assistant was holding, am I right?


  2. Great post and wonderful photograph! I've always enjoyed your backlit photographs of couples but this one is particularly good!