How I shot the silhouette series

DSC_8135Since posting this selfie on Facebook, I have received several inquiries on how the shot was taken, particularly if the sunlight was Photoshopped or not. Well, sorry to disappoint, but no it’s not. 🙂
Truth is, I never use Adobe Photoshop.
I am a hobbyist landscape and street photographer, and Adobe Lightroom is more than enough for my needs (I sometimes use Darktable when using my Ubuntu machine). Photoshop, on the other hand, is best suited for fashion and glamour photography where selective processing is necessary. I never had any interest in those genres in photography, thus never bothered to learn Photoshop other than the basics –for creating memes, lol.
So, to those asking, here’s how I did it.
It’s all pretty straightforward actually, and can be achieved by just about any modern camera and even mobile phones with built-in light metering. The trick is in knowing how the light, in this case sunlight, will affect your shot.
Before going into the steps I took to get the shot, let me talk a bit about the settings and gears I used.
My humble gear

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 10-24mm, CDR-King mini tripod, Nikon ML-L3 remote (not shown here). That’s it, I swear. I’m just a hobbyist photographer with quite a LOT of other hobbies (okay vices) so I can’t spend much on my photography gear. The Nikon D7000 and Sigma 120-400mm shown above are not mine. 😉
My usual settings
I always shoot in RAW format with all settings at neutral –no sharpness, no vibrance, no saturation. This is because I don’t like much how the D90’s algorithm adds in the sharpness and saturation when set in-cam. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking, but I prefer to take every shot as faithfully as possible, preserve as much of the details as I can, then play with it on the PC.

  • White Balance – Auto (I’m too lazy to play around with WB)
  • Shooting mode – P or Program Mode (camera sets the aperture and shutter speed based on the metering)
  • Scene mode – Neutral (I think this mode is called “Faithful” for Canon cameras)
  • Metering – Matrix or Multi-Segment mode
  • Focus mode – Dynamic

You can view the full EXIF here.
The scene
These images were shot on a beach in Bantayan Island where me and my officemates spent the weekend (will be blogging about this soon, watch out for it as I will be giving updates for those planning to go to the island for the Holy Week).
It was already late afternoon, and at the time the low tide is often very severe, exposing rather large areas of the sea floor. The shots were taken about 10-15 meters from the shore.
Because the tide was low, there were a lot of people and kids moving around, making it difficult to compose a shot that would isolate the subject. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to get shots that made it seem we were alone in the beach.

1617448_799267900103035_215568580_o1795252_1431939017044031_1670457130_ophotos by Jewel and Carissa

The steps
Okay, without further ado, here are the steps.
1. First thing I did was compose the background. I took a couple of quick shots to determine which areas are best to use as a background that takes full advantage of the setting sun. I finally settled on a full frontal shot of the island.

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First test shot

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Second test shot

2. Once I had the background framed, I placed the camera on Live View to mark a spot where I should position myself for the selfie (yeah I took the selfie first, vain that I am). I placed a rock on the sand to mark where my feet should be and, once I got myself in position, put it behind my feet and took the first test shot using the remote control with a delay of 2 seconds after focusing. Take note that your focus point should be set at the center so you can easily get that sunlight in the right place (see explanation below).

sampleAs you can see above in photo number 161, I was already in the perfect spot but the horizon is tilted. I realized that the sand was too soft, making the tripod tilt on one side after a while. To correct it, I used a seashell to put under one tripod leg to prevent it from sinking then took another shot.
This time I was careful to slightly raise my squatting position so that the sunlight peeks just under my left armpit. I achieved this by looking at my shadow on the ground, and when sunlight hit the center part of the lens I pressed the remote button to take the shot (photo number 162).
The reason I waited for it to hit the center of the lens is because my focus point was set to the center. If, for example, the shot was made while the focus point was on my shoulder and not on the sunlight the silhouette would not have been as dramatic. To achieve the greatest contrast when aiming for silhouette shots, the focus point should be directed at the brightest area in the background, in this case the sunlight, and not the subject, in this case me.
3. I chose photo number 162 as the photo to process and publish. The third shot, photo 163, was an attempt to put the sunlight near my head to achieve a halo effect. Unfortunately to do that I need to raise the shooting height of my camera but I was only using a mini tripod that did not have extendable legs. Tough luck, pfft. (I wasn’t even near to putting the sunlight near my head lol)
silo24. I took a total of 3 shots in all for the selfie. Later on the photos were imported into Lightroom. As you can see from the screenshot above, the original image is flat and relatively unremarkable. This is because, as mentioned earlier, I used neutral settings to take this shot.
For post-processing, I simply chose Auto Tone then played around a bit to make the image pop out. I then jacked up the vibrance and clarity, then tweaked the blues and oranges in the HSL panel to make them more prominent. Lastly, I added sharpening and noise reduction.
That’s it!
Oh yeah, wait. For the export settings, I simply chose Long Edge at 1024 pixels and 300 DPI, 85% JPG quality, normal sharpening for screen, and added a watermark.
There you go. I hope I at least answered your questions. If you have more questions to add, comments, clarifications, or would simply beg to disagree, please feel free to post a comment below. Constructive criticisms are very much welcome. 🙂
Here are more shots from the silhouette series, enjoy! Thanks to my “models” Carissa, Jewel, and Ralph. 🙂

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