'High-Key Silhouette' Photography
The weather and light conditions for the last week or so on the North Ayrshire coast in Scotland, has made it ideal to indulge in what I call 'high-key silhouette photography'. I'm not sure that there is such a genre, but I am quite fond of the effect.
Both the sky and the still sea have been almost white, and the hazy conditions has meant that it's been difficult to get any detail in the background when you shoot into the sun. However, when the sun sits low in the sky, you can position yourself with the bright light behind your subject in such a way that it (or they) are rendered black, even to the naked eye.
It can be quite tricky to get right, and I found that moving even ten paces to the left or right of the subject can lose the effect, and you get some colour on your subject. I just change my position until the subject blackens the way I want it. Then using spot metering (matrix works fine too), I lift my camera and expose on the bright, white-out sky, focus on the subject and get the shot!
A few test shots to get the settings just right may be necessary, but normally this technique works fine on any DSLR. It's a little easier using a mirrorless camera since looking through an electronic viewfinder means you immediately see the result as you make your adjustments.
Shooting in RAW, I did my black and white conversions in post-production, but it may be worth shooting in monochrome from the start, especially if you're shooting in JPEG.
Give it a go - it's definitely worth trying. Here are a few examples that I took on Sunday!
My friend Dan from Edinburgh sent me a message on Saturday morning last week saying that he was going to RSPB Lochwinnoch for a few hours, and that it's only 15 miles from where I live. What he was actually saying was, 'Let's go photograph some bird's!'
Now, that genre of photography is not my speciality, but truth be told, I will photograph anything interesting, so I packed some gear and and headed off with my wife Brenda to join him there.
The venue is great! And the weather was bright and sunny. Some people would say that the conditions were not ideal for photography. 'Too much contrast between the light and shadows', they would say. 'Great maybe for street photography, but the dappled light would be against taking photos of birds in the woods - lets come back on a cloudy day with its beautiful soft, diffused light '.
Well my view is that all light is good, we must either creatively use what we've got or add some of our own light to enhance it and make it better. The only gear I had with me was my Nikon D810 and a Nikon Nikkor AFS 200-500 1:5.6E ED VR lens. In the open and with some patience, it was relatively easy to get some sharp images. However, it was a little more challenging at the bird -feeder hide situated in amongst the trees.
What to do with the intense contrast between the light and shadows? One solution was to look for favourite spot for the birds in bright light. Ensuring that I had sufficient shutter speed, I could expose for the light and wait for a bird to come into it. With my autofocus settings already in place, when a bird came into the light, I could simply take the shot!
Slightly under-exposing the spot of light (-2/3 stop or so) ensured that the shadows were rendered dark enough to make the bird stand out. Looking back on it, I should ideally have used spot metering for my exposure, but I managed to get away with matrix metering. Next time around I will definitely use spot metering!
Here are two images of the same Siskin as examples of this technique - this bird came into the light from around the back of the feeder facing me.
Manual Mode ISO 500 f/5.6 1/500sec (at 500mm)
And an image taken in bright light away from the hide - a Chaffinch.
Manual Mode ISO 200 f/5.6 1/2000sec at 500mm
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Clive Larrett is a North Ayrshire Freelance Photographer