May Photo Challenge Theme: Silhouettes and Shadows

Here’s this month’s Photo Challenge Theme…

Remember, every month, first-, second-, and third-place winners are automatically entered into the Grand Prize Photo Challenge -- coming up in October -- for a chance to win $2,000 (just in time for holiday shopping season). Read on for details and this month’s theme…

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

May 1, 2009
The Right Way to Travel, Weekly Photo Tip

By Shelly Perry in Portland, OR

It’s no big secret that adding people to your photographs makes them all the more compelling and saleable. But there are times, for one reason or another, that adding a recognizable person is just not feasible.

Luckily, there are other ways to include a human element in your photos without needing to secure a signed model release. It’s with that idea in mind that I introduce this month’s Photo Challenge Theme: Silhouettes and Shadows.

Creating shadows in your photos is pretty straightforward. You simply use a person’s shadow -- instead of their body -- as the dominant subject of the shot. Use all your compositional skills, maintain proper exposure, and focus on the shadow.

Creating compelling photos of silhouettes, on the other hand, can be a little tricky. Here are a few key points to remember:

** Generally, you will need to shoot early in the morning or late in the day. Watch for a strong, back-lit situation, meaning that the light is coming from behind your subject. Think sunrise, sunset, or even a nice strong light from a window.

** Set your exposure for the brightest part of the scene, not the person who you’re trying to turn into a silhouette. (Note: If you don’t know how to do this, use this shortcut: Point your camera at the lightest part of your image -- the sky or the window -- and half-way depress the shutter button. With the button half pressed, recompose your shot and when you’ve got the picture you want on your screen or viewfinder, push the shutter the rest of the way down to take the picture).

The goal is for your subject (whoever you’re photographing) to fall into shadow, leaving you with nothing more than an outline of their body (this is one way you can sell people shots without a model release.)

** Be sure to turn off your flash.

** Focus should usually be on the silhouetted subject. If you use the shortcut above to get the exposure, you may have to use manual focus to make this work. If you don’t have a manual focus option, turn your camera to manual mode and set your the f-stop and shutter speed to properly expose the brightest part of the photo. Then, you’re free to focus on the subject. (This article from our archives can help if you’re not sure how.)

Remember, when shooting either silhouettes or shadows, that the more distinct and exaggerated the subject, the better. Just because a photo has a shadow or a silhouette in it somewhere, that doesn’t mean the shadow or silhouette makes a good subject. Compose your shot with purpose, making the subject obvious to the viewer.

Here are a few examples to get you started…

Here is a nice strong silhouette:

Silhouettes adn Shadows

Here is a shot that has both a silhouette and shadow (it's sold on upside-down this way):

Here is a nice use of a shadow:

And your silhouette and shadow subjects don’t have to be people:

Only one photo per person will qualify, and the photo must be taken by the entrant.

To enter, send us your ONE best theme-appropriate photo. Multiple entries from the same photographer will be deleted before judging.

Submissions for May’s Photo Challenge are due by 8 a.m. EST on Monday, May 25, 2009. You can submit your photos by clicking on the "This Month’s Theme - Enter to Win!" link on the right side bar of this page.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]