Curious about how to achieve those fantastic sunset silhouette photos? Here are some tips to capture the perfect sunset!

Who doesn’t love a GREAT sunset silhouette photo? Have you ever wanted to create that artsy silhouette shot with your kids jumping against a sunset? There is something magical about getting that perfect sunset with a crisp silhouette of your subjects in front of it. This type of image gives you a nice variety of photos where a face isn’t the main focus of the picture. A beautiful silhouette photo can turn a photo into a piece of art when enlarged and put onto a canvas in your favorite part of the house. Here is our guide to achieving those beautiful silhouette shots!

sunset silhouette

How is that perfect sunset silhouette achieved?

First, every camera has an auto option, and this setting is usually not entirely adequate for silhouettes. If you are shooting towards the sun, your camera will change its settings for the exposure of the sky. Now what you have to do is put a subject in front of the sky so that they are blocking the sun and try taking a shot. Auto mode in this instance is trying to calculate the light in the entire frame, especially if you’re using evaluative metering. SO, in most cases, you’ll definitely want to be using manual mode!

Sunset silhouette manual camera settings!

  1. You usually want to lower your ISO significantly, this usually means around ISO 100-200. In this case, you WANT your photo to be darker.
  2. You still want to avoid motion blur in your photos, so you want to use a reasonably fast shutter speed.
  3. Your f-stop can be bumped a bit higher, roughly f/5 to make sure you get the outline of your subject and the surrounding scenery.

Obviously, these settings are going to vary greatly depending on the amount of light you have! Basically, the goal is to have your subject entirely black, while still seeing the deep colors in the sky.

Using Aperture Priority mode.

At this point, with a little knowledge of your camera, you can set your exposure by using Aperture Priority or the A setting or AP on most camera’s dials. These settings are on the top portion of the camera body. If you point your camera towards the sky and press the shutter halfway down, you can see your light meter and set your aperture. I prefer it to be somewhere around f 11. If you are comfortable, you can also shoot in manual.  Set both your aperture and shutter speed to have more control over your exposure.

sunset silhouette

Placing your subject in the perfect position for a sunset silhouette.

Sometimes the way you place your subject can help you get a more crisp silhouette as well. Make sure that whatever part of your subjects you would like silhouetted are above the horizon line. If you want to get an entire body silhouetted, you will most likely have to lower your body and angle your camera up. You can use a wide angle lens to capture more of the scene ( when you want to include a pier or something like that), or a zoom lens to silhouette just the subjects.

If there are exciting parts of the environment, such as a tree or long grasses or even other people, it is better to move farther away or use a wider angle lens. Most cameras come with an 18-55 mm lens, and this would work correctly when zoomed out all the way to capture the entire scene. For a more dramatic effect, put your focus on faces with the sun setting in between them. Read this great tutorial for more tips on posing!

 sunset silhouette

If you’re working with a person as a subject, move them around!

The last step is how you direct your subjects. To get the best sunset silhouette, you want clean edges, and you can achieve this just by the way you angle your subjects. You can face couples towards one another to see their profiles instead of just the backs of their heads. If you’d like, position a mom to be with her belly to the side, or ask your subjects to jump so their entire bodies are off the ground and you get a full body silhouette. Sometimes, this can take a couple of tries, so don’t get discouraged. I once asked a couple to jump about six times to get their bodies above the horizon line at the same time. However many attempts it takes, that perfect shot is always worth it. For a comprehensive posing guide, click here!

The key is to practice! Try asking a friend to venture out on a photo shoot and experiment with different composition and settings. This will take the pressure off, and allow you to see what works best for you and your camera!

sunset silhouette

Here are some more quick tips that may help create the perfect silhouette!

  • Make sure you are shooting either early in the morning, or right before sunset. You want to prepare, so get there about 30 minutes before the sun dips down behind the horizon line. You don’t want to rush yourself or your clients!
  • Ditch the flash. You don’t need it because you are not trying to illuminate your clients.
  • Try to frame your subject(s), but eliminate the distractions if you can. We want as much focus on our clients as possible!
  • Make sure your clients what is in focus! We want the perfect silhouette outline!
  • Intentionally pose your clients so that they are clearly defined in your photo.  When people are just lumped together, you can’t tell where one person starts, and the other begins!
  • SHOOT IN RAW. This allows you to make the most out of your editing.

Editing you sunset silhouette photos!

Don’t get discouraged if the colors in your sky aren’t as vibrant as you had hoped. You still need to make those colors pop to really add depth to the image. Here are a few things you can do to really get the best out of your sunset silhouette photos.

Remember that sunset silhouettes take practice. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t nail your shot the first time. Under these lighting conditions, we need to change things up a bit and unlearn what we know about daytime photography.  If you’re struggling with this, or with any other photography related questions, join our supportive Facebook page where fellow photographers can help answer your questions.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.

Chat soon!