Learn how to Photograph a Silhouette and more in this week's Photography Techniques and Tips - HOW TO TUESDAY #18 / by Zack Smith

Learn How to Photograph a Silhouette Portrait in any situation!

I have to say, this last week was a great week for Acadiana area artists. Being from Lafayette and living and working in New Orleans, I love when I get to work with Cajun and Zydeco artists in any way shape or form. I recently got to work one artist from Lafayette that I've been photographing for quite a while. 

Anthony Dopsie and the Jazz Fest Silhouette

After shooting as one of the staff photographers for The Jazz and Heritage Festival for 7 years, I have amassed an impressive archive of festival photography. In addition to doing my duty for the festival and getting the shots required to tell the story of the music, food, and fun - I make sure I get photos that I can use for later. I make sure I photograph my friends hanging out in the crowd, I do well lit backstage portraits of musicians, friends and strangers. One aside to this story, most young photographers are always asking me "can you get on stage?" as if being on stage you get the 'best' shots. I always tell them that you are more limited from the stage than anywhere else, and the best shot would be "15 feet in the air, in the middle of the crowd". It's funny, but kind of true.

There are a few moments when being on stage can really help you: The Backlit Over Exposed Crowd Musician Portrait. Say what!? One of my favorite stages to shoot is the Fais Do Do Stage, mainly because I love the music on that stage (mostly Cajun and Zydeco) but you can get some great silhouette photos (SEE the NEW Gallery) of the musicians since the crowd has more light on them than the stage. The best way to describe what a silhouette is when you set your exposure for a brighter background then the subject that is in front of it. If the subject is in a darker area, then it will be rendered as a silhouette.

I recently was contacted by the Louisiana Office of Tourism as they were looking for a silhouette or partially silhouetted musician playing at a non-descript music festival. Knowing that I had tons of this, I went straight to my Jazz Fest archives and looked up all the Cajun and Zydeco bands I photographed. I usually always get on stage when Rockin' Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters play because of the ongoing relationship I have with them. Any time they see me shooting, I always get direct engagement, especially from accordion player Anthony Dopsie. I found one shot from a few years back of the PERFECT silhouette of Anthony, sent it to the agency working for the client and they loved it. The photograph ended up being used in their ad "Come for a Feast - Stay for a Fest"

Anthony was super excited as was I. As you see in the photo above, I exposed for the crowd in the back meaning I wanted the crowd to dictate what my shutter speed and aperture were, and just let my subject (Anthony) fall where it may knowing it would be underexposed. My exposure here was:

In this case of wanting a silhouette I could not set my camera on a Priority Exposure Mode like Aperture or Shutter Priority. Using Manual Exposure (always!) I can use my Spot Meter to read the light from the background to begin my exposure. I set my aperture at 2.8 so that the crowd would only be recognizable as a soft mass of people as I didn't want the viewers eye to go there. Once I set my aperture at 2.8, I read the Spot Meter and I could then bring my shutter speed to 1/800 which gave me the exposure I wanted which was had the Meter reading "0" or right at 2/3 of a stop below. Having my ISO low at 320 enabled me to crop the image without losing much detail. Here's the original image before the crop:

It was great working with the Louisiana Office of Tourism to help promote the greatest things about Louisiana! Food, Music, and Acadiana! Allons a Lafayette!