How To Shoot a Boudoir Silhouette Using Natural Light


Boudoir silhouettes can add some nice variation to your shoot, giving your client an even wider variety of images to choose from. 

Shooting a silhouette is rather easy.

Place your client in front of a large bright window where natural light is coming in. You’ll most likely want to put up some sheer white curtains to soften the light, and also hide anything outside the window that may distract from the image. 

The white curtains also act as a plain canvas that your silhouette will be captured upon. 

Now, instead of exposing for your subject, you’ll want to expose for the curtains and since they’ll be bright, that means using a smaller aperture. As you stop down, your subject will get darker. 

You may have to adjust your ISO and shutter speed as well since you’ll be shooting directly into the light. Just remember that the more you increase your shutter speed, the more ambient light you’ll lose. 

Now, you just want to find that point where your subject is mostly hidden is shadow, although I like to be able to see some form and features of her, but you’re still able to achieve an effectivele dark silhouette. 

Below I go into the reasons why I don’t like to go pitch black on my silhouettes, but adjust your exposure to your liking. 

Why It’s Better Not to Go All Black on a Silhouette

I find it better not to have your subject go pitch black when shooting a silhouette. The reason being is that you lose the illusion of depth. It will make your subject look flat and two-dimensional.

Exposing to have at least some ambient light fall onto your model where you can make out her features and form adds a bit of mystery. Our eye is tring to discover what this person looks like, what she has on (or not on), and I find it can add another level of interest and intrigue to your shot.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m a big advocate of practicing and experimenting with either a willing subject or even just a styrofoam wig head sitting atop a light stand. 

If you have a regular place where you shoot, you can easily get in the ballpark of the correct settings for your camera to get the desired silhouette you’re looking for. 

Granted, when you get your real client in the same spot you may have to adjust your settings a bit but you won’t be starting from zero.

Tips To Make Your Silhouette Even Better

If your subject is lying on her back, either on the floor or on a coffee table, make sure her back and neck are arched to allow as much light through those gaps as possible. And you’ll also want to stagger her bent legs to allow light through there as well.

If your subject has long hair, you may want to consider either fanning it out behind her or putting it in a bun to allow light to illuminate the arch under her neck. 

Another tip is to try and have the light your model is posing in front of to back-light her from head to toe. If you have windows that are full-length (floor to ceiling) that’s ideal, or if she’s stretched out on her back or side, try and get her high enough so she’s above the sill of the window.

A lot of times it will still work and be effective even if your windows don’t envelope her entire body because the spill is so great, but ideally you want to try and get her all within the frame of the window.  

In the photo above of the woman standing in front of the window, notice how she’s only backlit from just below the waist on up. From the waist down her legs quickly fall into shadow… which is a cool look too. If this happens and you want more light to spill further down her body, just have her step further away from the window so more light hits her further down.

Turn Your Silhouette Into Black and White

Most silhouettes look great as black and white images. That high contrast between the bright highlights and dark shadows and all the gradations in between can be divine. 

How To Turn Your Image Into Black & White In Photoshop

Open up your RAW file in Photoshop. 

In the Basic editing window (the one it opens up in) you’ll see near the top two options, either Color or Black & White

Select Black & White

Notice that your Profile (just below that) will change from Adobe Color to Adobe Monochrome. That lets us know we’re working in black and white.

Now, adjust your basic sliders as you normally would to suit your tastes and after that we’ll do some fine tuning.

Fine Tune Your Black & White Image

You’ll notice that once you select the black & white option in the previous step, the HSL Adjustment tab (fourth icon from the right) will now become the Black & White Mix tab.

Here you can adjust your color sliders (like red, orange, yellow, etc) that will affect those corresponding tones in your black and white image.

So, for example, adjusting the red slider will affect the model’s lips or anything else red in the original color image.

Adjusting the orange slider will affect the skin tones and also soften and smooth out the skin, so use sparingly or not at all if you already have a skin softening software that you use like Portraiture (which is what I use).

So, I won’t do any skin softening here at this point but if you don’t use a third party skin softening program then this is a great time to smooth out the skin using the orange slider.

After you’re done make adjustments you can click on OPEN IMAGE and finish retouching your shot in Photoshop. 

To learn more on how to create amazing black & white images, refer to my article, “How Do You Make Your Black & White Boudoir Images Pop?”

How To Turn Your Image Into Black & White In Lightroom (2019)

Once you’ve loaded your images into Lightroom, select an image.

Click on the Edit icon in the upper right corner (three sliders) and at the top next to Edit you’ll see two choices Auto and B&W

Select B&W and Wahlahh!

Lightroom will turn your color image into black and white!

Another way to convert to black & white in Lightroom is to click on the drop down menu arrow next to Profile and select Monochrome.

Either way will work.

Now go to the Color tab and to the right you’ll see a crescent-shaped color wheel icon. Click on that to get to the Black & White Mix adjustments where you can adjust your color sliders that correspond to the tones in your black and white image just like you can in Photoshop.



How To Turn Your Image Into Black & White In Lightroom (2017)

Once you’ve loaded your images into Lightroom, select an image.

Click on the Develop tab at the top of the menu bar.

Under the Basic screen you’ll see Color and Black & White next to “Treatment:”

Select Black & White.

Now just go down to the HSL / Color / B&W tab and click on the drop down menu arrow to get to your color tone adjustment sliders.

Fine tune your image to your liking.

What’s the Difference Between Silhouettes and Bodyscapes?

One of the big differences between silhouettes and bodyscapes is that with silhouettes your backlight is white and bright — like when you’re using a big window with bright natural light as your back light.

With bodyscapes, your background is dark, even pitch black, and your powerful back light (artificial) is blocked by your subject to create that defining edge light.

Another difference is that with silhouettes, the dark shadow that is cast onto the front of your subject can vary from very dark (or even pitch black) to much lighter allowing us to see more contouring of light onto the subject. 

With bodyscaping the shadow on the front of your subject is practically pitch black. The only light is the thin bright edge light that is created from the back light and its fall-off is short, leaving a very narrow sliver of gradation onto the subject. 

Yet another difference is that with silhouettes the emphasis is on capturing the outline of the entire form, and creating space between the arms and the torso and the legs so we’re not just capturing a dark unrecognizable mass. 

With bodyscapes, the emphasis is on contouring one edge of that form with light, while the rest of the body gets lost in an unrecognizable mass of darkness.

Conclusion

Silhouettes are a great way to add variety and mystery to your shoot. Especially if your subject wants to go full commando in a subtle but stylish way. 

The dark shadows can all but conceal your client’s nudity in a cloak of darkness that at first glance my look just like any other silhouette but upon closer inspection may reveal much more.

If you found this article helpful, pass it along to someone else who may find it beneficial.

Thanks for your time!

Charles Mitri

Founder / Lounge Boudoir

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Charles Mitri

Charles Mitri is an award-winning boudoir photographer and also founder and writer of LoungeBoudoir.com, an educational blog and resource website for boudoir photographers worldwide. He lives in Yorktown, Virginia.

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