Boudoir silhouettes can add some nice variation to your shoot, giving your client a wider variety of images to choose from. In this article we’re going to explore shooting two kinds of silhouettes.
Full Silhouette vs. Partial Silhouette
There are, in essence, two kinds of silhouettes (as I see it).
There’s the full-blown silhouette where the subject is blacked out completely against a bright light where you see no detail whatsoever in your subject. This can resemble flat, two-dimensional clip art.
And then there’s the partial-silhouette where there’s enough ambient light in the room to see some detail in the shadows on your subject.
Personally, I prefer the partial silhouette over the fully blacked out kind because it’s more three-dimensional looking and it teases the viewer into exploring the image deeper, trying to figure out what your subject is wearing or not wearing.
The partial silhouette adds a level of anticipation, interest, and allure that a full-blown silhouette just can’t deliver.
Prepare The Room
If there are any artificial lights on, you’ll probably want to turn those off.
In addition, if you’re shooting in a space that has multiple windows or even just one big window, there may be too much light streaming in, and thus, too much ambient light in the room. You’ll have to block some or all of it with curtains, dark plastic, or a V-flat.
Using sheer white curtains in your main window is more for reducing your light by a small degree but also, it serves as a blank canvas against which to shoot your silhouette.
To fully block the light from other windows you’ll need dark curtains. If you have these already, great. If not, consider the alternatives below.
If you go to Walmart or any large home-improvement store you can pick up a roll of black plastic sheeting. This is used for all kinds of projects but you can cut it up into smaller sections and tape it over your windows.
Get the 10ft. X 25ft black 3mm “plastic sheeting” (is what they call it).
Cut it up into four 10’ x 6’ sheets, or whatever dimensions you think will adequately cover the windows in your space.
Use blue painter’s tape so it won’t damage the paint on the wall or window frame when you remove it later.
This is a great solution because it’s light-weight and can easily be folded up and packed in a bag if you need to travel with it.
This is what I use, and once you get over the prep of cutting it, it’s good to go anytime.
Make sure you get the 3mm thickness. It’s perfect for being strong yet light weight and easy to fold.
If you’re a fan of V-flats you can set up a V-flat or two to block the light as well. These are not as convenient for traveling though.
Camera Settings For A Partial Silhouette
To start, you’ll want to shoot in Manual mode since we’ll only be using the in-camera exposure metering as a baseline to overexpose and underexpose our shots.
With partial silhouettes you’ll want to overexpose your image by about 1 stop, up to about 1 and 1/3rd to 1 and 2/3rds… generally speaking, depending on your lighting conditions.
This is done primarily by adjusting your shutter speed. Adjust your shutter speed so the setting reads 1 full stop to about 1 and 1/3rd stop above an even exposure.
With ISO around 320 and aperture at f/7.1
So, when you’re pointing your camera at your silhouette (window and model) and your internal meter is telling you where an even exposure is with the mark hovering over zero “0”, you want to lower your shutter speed so that mark moves to the right and hovers over the one “1” or 1 1/3rd, or 1 2/3rds markings.
Since the window light is so bright the camera is taking that into consideration when calculating the proper exposure so you have to over-compensate by overexposing. This will ensure proper partial silhouette exposure of your subject while still keeping the view outside somewhat overexposed.
With these settings your shutter-speed will drop to around 1/40th, 1/25th of a second. That’s not very fast and can introduce camera shake… which is something you don’t want.
There are two ways around this:
1 — shoot on a tripod (I know, I know… I can hear the crying all ready, but this is one sure way to keep your ISO low and your aperture around f/7.1 or higher). If you don’t have a tripod, or you’re anti-tripod, then…
2 — increase your ISO to around 800 which will allow a slight increase in shutter speed and/or open up your aperture some more. If you can manage a blur-free shot with a borderline shutter-speed then more power to ya’.
Personally, I don’t want to lower my aperture because since we’re shooting a silhouette, we’re usually taking a full-body shot, or something close to it. So, we’ll be a fair distance from our subject and we want a higher f-stop to assure sharp focus.
Also, depth of field isn’t the goal here. We’re not trying to isolate the subject from the background. So, I like to keep my aperture value high f/7.1 to f/11
The main objective here is to capture the right amount of light on your subject from sunlight coming from the outside mixed with the proper amount of ambient light from the inside.
These settings (ISO 320, f/7.1, shutter speed ~ 1/40th) will also make the outside view just right. It will be overexposed to a degree but you’ll still be able to make out that there’s something out there without drawing attention to itself or being completely blown out.
Now remember, these settings are basic guidelines because everyone’s window light and ambient light will differ, but this is a good place to start.
After a few test shots you’ll probably only have to make minor adjustments to fine tune it, and remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect because you can adjust the highlights and shadows in post but we want to get it as close to perfect as we can in-camera.
Camera Settings For A Full Silhouette
With full silhouettes you want to underexpose your image 1 full stop, up to two full stops… generally speaking, depending on your particular lighting conditions.
With the full silhouette we have the advantage of dropping our ISO to 100, as well as, increasing our aperture to f/11 (if needed) so that will help raise our shutter-speed to an acceptable hand-held value.
One disadvantage (or advantage, depending on what you like) to shooting the full silhouette is that your view outside will become more properly exposed and so more prominent and noticeable behind your subject. (Notice how the sheer curtains disappear as we increase our shutter speed to achieve a darker silhouette.)
If that’s something you don’t want you can double up on your sheer curtains to make the view more opaque while still allowing light to shine through.
(If you really want to obscure the view outside then go with the partial silhouette.)
Practice, Practice, Practice
I’m a big advocate of practicing and experimenting with either a willing subject or just a styrofoam head sitting atop a light stand.
Granted, when you get your real client in the same spot you’ll probably have to make some adjustments because of skin tone, but you won’t be starting from zero.
Tips To Make Your Boudoir Silhouettes Even Better
The key to a great silhouette is creating space. Space helps outline the shape and form of the woman in whatever pose she’s in. If all you’re seeing is a black blob then it defeats the purpose of shooting the silhouette.
If your subject is lying on her back, either on the floor or on a raised surface like 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 legs to allow light through there as well.
If your subject has long hair, consider fanning it out behind her or putting it in a bun to allow light to illuminate the arch under her neck.
Also, 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 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 even if your windows don’t envelope her entire body because the spill of light is so great, but ideally you want to try and get her all within the frame of the window.
Silhouettes are a great way to add variety and allure to your shoot, and give your clients a different kind of image to include in their album or as a stunning piece of wall art.
If you found this article helpful, please pass it along to someone it may also benefit.
Thanks for your time!
Founder / Lounge Boudoir
Bella Mitri Boudoir
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