education, travel

The Silhouette

Canon EOS 5D MK II, EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, f/6.3 1/2000 ISO 500

Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity!” ~ Henry David Thoreau

In communication, simplicity is king. Getting to the point, and leaving no room for misinterpretation is efficient and effective. We, as photographers, are visual communicators. And more specifically, we as nature/landscape photographers are communicating emotion through our images. So how do we keep the clutter down to get our core point across?

Well, one of my favorite techniques is, you guessed it… the silhouette.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/8 1/60 ISO 800

The “Why”

Why does this technique work so well? Well, simply put: it strips down our subject into fewer and fewer elements – mostly shape, light, and color. But even the light element is typically ultra simplified… a silhouette is nine times out of ten backlit. As a consequence, it can often more efficiently communicate an idea, emotion, or memory. It is supremely graphic by nature and it brings unparalleled drama to an image.

There are many instances that would lead one to use this technique. One of those would be when you simply want to accentuate color and cloud texture. This is often during sunset or sunrise. But it requires a simple, uncluttered landscape, like the example above. In this particular image, I wanted to set the viewer’s focus on an iconic landmark of Big Bend National Park, Mule Ears. Even if you’ve never seen or heard of Mule Ears, I bet you can pick it out, can’t you? And have an emotional response to the colors. Thus the beauty of a silhouette.

The Technique

Every situation will be a little different, however, one simple rule remains; get your exposure from your background. What do I mean by this? Take a spot meter reading on the brightest part of your image, usually the sky. Now this can get a bit tricky if you are shooting directly into the sun. You may have to play around with it a bit to get just the right exposure. Don’t be afraid to let the sun blow out just a bit. What you really want to watch out for and guard against is for the blacks to get muddy. Determine what will be your deepest, truest black in the image, and pay close attention to how it looks. Does it start to blend with the layer just behind it? If so, you need to open up your exposure a little. Try again.

One of the hardest parts about creating a truly wonderful and compelling silhouette image is the balancing of the highlights and the shadows. But unlike in a conventionally lit exposure, your range will be many fewer “zones”. If you are familiar with Adam’s Zone System, you know that a traditional exposure might have 9 or 10 “zones”, or distinct tones. Nowadays with digital, it is possible to achieve even more. However, with a silhouette, you may have as few as 2. But most often in nature photography, it will be more like 4-5 “zones”.

Composition is Key

Even more important than balancing tones in a silhouette is your composition. The rule of thirds and balance are supremely important to creating an effective silhouette. In the image below, the upper third is dominated by beautiful color and cloud texture, the middle third with warm, pouring light over rocky crags, and the lower third, an imposing, immovable mountain. The upper-middle left third, with it’s eye-catching light rays, is balanced by the lower-middle right third of the black peak.

Simplifying your compositions will make your silhouettes better. Go in tight, and get rid of clutter as much as possible.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/800 ISO 400

When To Use

On my most recent travels through the American South and Southwest I used silhouetting a lot. Like most nature/landscape photographers, I am often shooting at dusk and dawn, when the sky lights up with the day’s most pleasing light and colors. Silhouettes can help to accentuate and enhance the light and color. It also gives the photographer an easy way to shoot directly in to the sun, without the worry of needing a crazy dynamic range.

See the image below from Saguaro National Park. The saguaro cactus is an iconic symbol of the American Southwest. I could’ve chosen to photograph this specimen with front lighting or even side lighting, which would’ve allowed the viewer to see the color and some of the texture of the cactus. But I chose to silhouette it, placing the setting sun almost directly behind the subject to capture the light and color of the dusk, allowing the viewer to connect even more deeply to the well-known shape and spiny texture of the saguaro. To me, it is a more interesting and emotional image.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/16 1/250 ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2.0x, f/5.6 1/5000 ISO 500

I often do this with iconic flora and fauna (like the heron in the image above or the opening elk shot). When I travel to a new place, it is almost an unconscious effort to make sure I capture a very graphic silhouette of recognizable, quintessential actors of the local landscapes.

See below… The giant palms of Florida, the straight, endless, tall pines of the Everglades, the migrating cranes of the American south, etc. They are all quick reads, accentuating the shape, light, and color, rather than the leaf, trunk, feather, etc details.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM, f/4 1/30 ISO 400

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/11 1.125 ISO 100

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/5.6 1/1000 ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/500 ISO 250

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/8 1/100 ISO 500

As we all know, the sun is not our only source of natural light. The moon can be a wonderful backdrop for a variety of silhouetted subjects. The key to a successful shot like this is a (at least near) full moon, close to the horizon, with a long lens (at least 300mm), and a compressed subject that is far enough in the distance that it will fit nicely within the confines of the moon.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/5.6 1/200 ISO 1000

Sometimes a partial silhouette is your best choice for an image. What I mean by “partial” is that instead of having a pure black subject, you might have several layers of tones. But it still constitutes a silhouette because there is no real detail in the shadows to speak of… they are simply shades of color (or gray in B&W). These work wonderfully well when there are layers of mountains in the distance. I use this technique often to convey distance, grandeur, and intense color. Below is a good example from a recent shoot in the Grand Canyon.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/8 1/80 ISO 640

The Active Landscape

Placing humans in your silhouetted landscape brings a sense of scale and a personal connection to an image that cannot be achieved otherwise. The photographer can now convey multiple messages, like a sense of activity or action, like the surfing couple below.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/125 ISO 320

People can add a new set of emotions to an image that without them is much harder to achieve. The man below, craning to capture the gorgeous sunset on his phone is universally understood and relatable.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/250 ISO 125

The lone man (or couple in love) quietly standing in awe and contemplation of the beautiful sunset before them (see images below).

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM, f/16 1/40 ISO 250

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/400 ISO 320

Once you start practicing silhouetting your subjects, you will begin to see silhouettes everywhere. They are great to add to your repertoire and portfolio to mix things up, keep you creative, and to be a more effective communicator.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/11 1/1000 ISO 320

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, f/9 1/25 ISO 640

And you will be ready when the real magic hits like in the image below, when all the elements come together right before you… the early dawn sunlight filters through fog rising to create a moody and dramatic image that cuts to the soul of your viewers.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x III, f/11 1/500 ISO 320

Happy shooting!

— Andrew

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 3-5 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
SCOTLAND // ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP // 2017 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2017 – 4 SPOTS LEFT
GRAND TETON // LANDSCAPE + FALL COLORS // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
YELLOWSTONE // LANDSCAPE + WILDLIFE // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Grand Teton National Park sample today!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017

 

 
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education, travel

The Photographic Guide to Grand Teton National Park

Well, it’s been a little while since I last posted… so much going on here with our new life on the road! I promise I will start posting again soon. But first, I wanted to share some exciting news…

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 9.53.17 AM.pngThis is for all you “do-it-yourselfers” out there! The long awaited second installment to my eBook series of interactive photo guides to our National Parks, The Photographic Guide To Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton is my backyard National Park, and because of that, I know it like the back of my hand. If you are planning a trip to this magnificent area, this is the guide for you.

Everything from clickable GPS locations on every photo and how to capture them, to lodging info and where to find wildlife… plus so much more. I have poured a lot of time and love into this eBook and I know it will make your next visit to Grand Teton incredible.

You can purchase and download it directly on my website right now. Put it on your phone, tablet, laptop, whatever. Do your research at home before the trip, and then take it with you in the field! There is no better way to make the most of your next National Park excursion.

Please check it out. I’d love to know what you think. You can also download a free sample HERE to see if you like it first.

Soon to follow, Big Bend and Yellowstone.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 3-5 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2017 – 4 SPOTS LEFT
GRAND TETON // LANDSCAPE + FALL COLORS // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
YELLOWSTONE // LANDSCAPE + WILDLIFE // 2017 – 6 SPOTS LEFT
SCOTLAND // ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP // 2017 – 1 SPOT LEFT
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Grand Teton National Park sample today!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2017
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education, travel

An Information Dump

When a friend recently suggested I do an eBook, I was not immediately on board.

First, I know that they are a ton of work, with very little payoff. After all, eBooks aren’t making very many millionaires out there.

Second, I may be on the road now, but I feel like I have less “free” time now than I did when I lived in the city. And third, what the heck do I know about creating an eBook!?

“So what’s the point?” I thought to myself.

“Well, they’re a way you can give back a little,” he said. “You can reach a whole new segment of your following. The people that can’t necessarily afford the time or expense of doing one of your workshops… Or just the people who are the ‘do it yourselfers.'”

That part resonated with me. I’ve always been the “do it yourself” type. Opting to do the research myself rather than go on a workshop.

the-photographic-guide-to-rocky-mountain-national-park-coverI’ve since changed a little and take workshops at least once a year when I can, because I see the benefit of working closely with others, but I still relate to this other segment of folks who follow my work.

But I wasn’t satisfied with the “old way” of doing books. I wanted this to be an experience that puts all the tools needed to get the most out of a photo trip right at the finger tips of anyone reading.

So I set out to make a fully interactive, organized information dump that people can carry right on their cell phone, on location, or read on their tablet on a flight, or simply cross-reference and research from their home computer while in the planning phase. Wherever and whenever.

I am excited to announce the first in a (hopefully) long series of National Park photography guides, The Photographic Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s available for direct purchase and download on my website right now, and soon to be available on Amazon.

Please check it out. I’d love to know what you think. You can also download a free sample HERE.

Soon to follow, Grand Teton, Big Bend, and Yellowstone.

— Andrew


Ellen and I have hit the road full-time! We are on a mission to inspire and educate everyone on the importance of getting outside. Check out my workshops and my prints, made #ontheroad in my mobile print studio. The revenue will help propel us further and further on this great adventure. Enrich yourself and others… and feel great about it too as you’re helping to ensure our wild lands are cherished and to keep the wild spirit of the American Dream alive. Our goal is to visit all 59 National Parks in 2-4 years. LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING HERE



Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT // 2016 – SOLD OUT
TELLURIDE // LANDSCAPE + MOUNTAIN LIGHT (Trip 2) // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LOCAL + PRIVATE WORKSHOP // 2016 – AFFORDABLE RATES FOR ME TO COME TO YOU
BIG BEND // LANDSCAPE + NIGHT SKY // 2017 – MOST POPULAR! 6 SPOTS AVAILABLE
LEARN PHOTO + CAMERA BASICS // DALLAS // 2016 – 20 SPOTS!
 
I’m excited to announce my “The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
 
See what’s NEW + download your free Rocky Mountain National Park sample when it releases!
 
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
  
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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