Silhouette engagement photos by a professional photographer can be beautiful and impactful works 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 if you want your engagement portraits to be something special. You and your future spouse silhouetted against the background will give you engagement photos that stand out from the rest. They will look distinctive and nothing like ordinary engagement shots. Those photos will be nothing like what your friends have. The images will make them wonder why they did not get something so striking from their own engagement session.
But what is it about these kinds of images that make them so compelling? Why can you not take your eyes off of a silhouette engagement photo? Why does it make you want to ask your photographer to take one of you and your spouse-to-be?
Before we answer those questions, let us talk first about what makes any photo impactful. The goal of an image is always 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 it really telling? Certainly not the one the wedding photographers want to relate. And DEFINITELY not the one the couple wants told.
So with that in mind, here are two ways in which silhouette portraits draw your attention to the subjects:
There are probably thousands of different techniques that engagement photographers can use to focus on the subjects. 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.
Engagement photographers 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 backdrop. And that is the first way in which engagement silhouette pictures point you to the couple in love.
Sometimes using light and darkness to draw your eye means making the couple lighter against a relatively darker background. An extreme example of this would be an outdoor night portrait. In that scenario, engagement photographers use artificial light to illuminate the future spouses against the darkness around them. Because we tend to be drawn to brightness, your eyes cannot help but settle on the lightest 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.
Silhouette and shadow engagement photos achieve the exact same effect but more subtly and with light and dark flipped. Even though we usually tend to look at the brightest part of a scene, a silhouette still draws your eye to the part of the frame the photographer wants you to see. Why? Because 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 the second way in which shadowed engagement photos attract your eye so effectively. 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 an engagement photoshoot in a field just outside of Hannover Germany. We often do silhouettes 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 conventional portraits challenging, they are perfect for couple silhouette pictures. 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 shadow 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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