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Sep 12 2013

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Experiment with Exposure – Silhouettes

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You know, people often ask me what kind of camera I use. I try to impress on them that any camera, no matter how fancy, is just a box that collects light. It’s knowing how to use it that makes the difference. Not that we’re even on the same page artistically, but if I picked up Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, I still couldn’t play a chord. It’s not the tool, it’s the knowledge.

I bought my DSLR a few years back with one goal in mind: take decent shots of my kids before they grow up.  I felt like I was missing all the moments, and I wanted to capture a few at 1/500 of a second.  Sometimes life seems to move that quickly.  Back to a camera being a light-capturing box.  I get such a kick out of ‘extreme’ photography.  I like very short or very long exposure times.  If you really want to capture kids moving on a bright, sunshiny day, use 1/800 second shutter speeds.  Awesome!  If you want to get a nice blur of a waterfall in the forest or the light trail behind a car at night, your speed may slow to 1/2 second, or even 30 seconds!  

I want to showcase two different shots I took one late afternoon, after work.  As is the case with most of my favorite shots, timing is everything.  I have very rarely set out in the morning with the express mission of shooting a great picture.  90% of the time, I stumble upon a great shot and have to think quick.  This is where education comes in.  I watch youtube videos, read books, follow photography blogs, etc. to make sure I’m ready when called upon.   If that moment comes, and I don’t know what I’m doing, I miss the shot.  Simple as that.  

Anyway, I was driving home one clear winter’s day near sunset.  I had just been reading about silhouettes recently, and they were fresh in my mind.  The trick is to expose your frame based on bright parts of the scene.  If I had wanted to capture the kids’ faces, especially with them being so backlit – I’d have needed plenty of time to allow that much light into the camera. This would have made the background too bright, ruining the shot.  Once I let the camera tell me what a good speed would be (roughly 1/400 seconds), I just needed my subjects.  

Story behind the shot:  Olivia’s (left) and Gabriel’s (right) winter clothing were in the laundry.  I came flying through the door (daylight was literally wasting), and told them to grab their stuff and hit the road.  Without proper winter-wear, we had to improvise.  Liv wore a fur-lined vest with hood.  Gabe grabbed Jacob’s (center) spring jean jacket/sweatshirt sleeved coat.  No hats or mittens.  Only Jake had that luxury.  We found the perfect spot, where they could be up on a little hill and I could get low.  I didn’t want the other side of the waterway we were next to show up in the frame.  I yelled, “Jump on 3!”  I’m pretty sure Gabe was on the way up, Liv was on the way down, and Jake was cringing away from his jumping siblings.  What are you going to do?  If you look, you can make out the furry lining of Liv’s vest.  You can see that Gabe’s left arm doesn’t make it all the way to the end of Jake’s sleeve.  You can also tell that Gabe needed a haircut.  If we hadn’t hunted for semi-appropriate clothing, I could have maybe gotten a little more orange in the sky, but I think the final images were cool.  The second shot, to me, looks like Liv is some kind of rock star immediately after strumming her guitar, Who-style!  

my three silhouettes

my three silhouettes


Liv the rock star

Liv the rock star


I love to take silhouette pictures.  I think they’re awfully fun. What kind of picture do you like taking?  Are you brave enough to take your camera off of the “Auto” mode?  Tell me about it. 

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About the author

BigCalfGuy

BigCalfGuy

I am a 38 year old, married, father of three amazing children; one of whom has autism. I fancy myself as more Atticus Finch than Holden Caulfield. Dynamite with a laser beam.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bigcalfguy.com/experiment-with-exposure-silhouettes/

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