A silhouette photo by a destination engagement photographer can be a beautiful and impactful work of art. The darkened shape of two spouses-to-be rendered crisply against a bright background is almost always striking. It is an element of an image that reaches out and immediately grabs your attention. It forces you to notice the subjects of the photograph. It quickly becomes something that you cannot stop looking at.
That makes it a perfect technique for anyone who wants something special in their destination engagement photos. An image of you and your future spouse silhouetted against the background gives you something that stands out from the rest. It looks distinctive and nothing like an ordinary engagement portrait. Such a photo will be nothing like what your friends have. It will make them wonder why they did not get something so striking from their own engagement session.
But what is it about a silhouette engagement photo that makes it so compelling? Why can you not take your eyes off of one? Why does it make you want to ask your destination photographer to take one of you and your spouse-to-be?
Before we answer those questions, let us talk first about what makes any engagement photo impactful. The goal of that sort of image (or any type, for that matter) is to draw the viewer’s attention to the subjects. Any picture that fails to do that is essentially ineffective. Think about it for a moment. If you look at a photograph and you find yourself focusing on the background or some other element that is not the couple, then what kind of story is the image really telling? Certainly not the one the DC wedding photographers want to relate. And DEFINITELY not the one the couple wants told.
So the goal of any destination wedding photographer needs to be separating the subjects from the background. And there are probably thousands of different techniques they can use to do that. There are so many ways to bring your eyes to the couple photographed. We have already talked about a lot of them on this website. For example, they can isolate the subjects by “shooting through” another object in the frame. That effectively obscures the background by creating more foreground in the image. A Washington DC wedding photographer can also use leading lines to subtly point to the couple. That makes the background and foreground push your attention away from them and toward the subjects. They can use patterns or breaks in them to force the eye to notice inconsistencies or incongruities. That makes it clear that the couple is not part of the background. Finally, they can use the contrast between light and darkness to make the subjects stand out from the background. And that is where silhouettes come in.
Sometimes that means making the couple lighter against a relatively darker background. An extreme example of this would be an outdoor night portrait. In that scenario, the DC engagement photographer uses artificial light to illuminate the future spouses against the darkness around them. We tend to be drawn to brightness. So your eyes cannot help but settle on the brightest part of the resulting image. There is no ambiguity about where you are supposed to look. More importantly, there is no question about what (or who) is the subject of the photo.
In other cases, a professional photographer might choose to do the opposite. They might make the couple darker so that they stand out against a brighter backdrop. It is a completely different approach, but it achieves the same goal. Even though we tend to look at the brightest part of a scene, we still settle on the intended part of the frame. Our eyes are conditioned to look for things that do not fit right, for those aforementioned incongruities. For that reason, if your eye sees a frame (or a part of one) that is largely bright, it will be drawn to areas within that are darker.
And that is what makes silhouette portraits so effective and compelling. It is that difference between the lightness of the background and the shadows obscuring the faces of the couple that keeps your eyes fixated on the subjects. It is that incongruity that makes you focus on the couple and their love.
We captured this particular image during a destination engagement photoshoot in a field just outside of Hannover, Germany. We often do silhouette photos at sunrise or sunset because the sky looks so beautiful at those times of day. This couple’s engagement session took place, however, a little before noon. Which was not a problem at all! Though the sunniest parts of the day often make getting beautiful portraits challenging, they are perfect for silhouette photos. The sky is so bright that the couple is almost automatically darkened. To expose properly for a midday sky, the photographer has to make their camera settings very dark. That means that anything that is not as bright as the sky (the couple, for example) will be shrouded in darkness. So setting up and taking a silhouette photo could not be easier!
Sometimes a couple silhouetted against an open sky can be just a touch boring, though. As beautiful as the heavens can be, there is sometimes not enough variety to make them as compelling a backdrop as we would like. So to add a bit more flavor to this image, we decided to pose the couple in between some trees near the field. Like the subjects themselves, the trees were nowhere near as bright as the background. Thus when we exposed for the sky, they were also shrouded in darkness. Mostly, but not entirely. There are hints of green visible in the parts of the trees facing the camera. We love the effect that achieves. It gives little hints of color and texture, making the entire scene more visually appealing.
Naturally, we made sure to find a break in trees big enough to leave some space around the couple when we posed them there. We wanted them to be separated from the trees and not obscured by anything. It would not be a very effective silhouette portrait if the subjects were hidden in the shadow of a tree!
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