What Lighting is Used to Create Silhouettes?

Hey, it’s Mehmood from Camlense and today I will be talking about silhouettes. I will be talking about the lighting used to create silhouettes and measures that have to be taken care of when creating them. Today, I am going to teach you, how to make a silhouette lighting setup.

What are Silhouettes?

A silhouette is any setup where you have a partially or fully dark subject in front of a bright background. Silhouettes can be a really interesting way to quickly add some drama and some mystery to your scene.

You will often see this technique employed in genres such as movie Noir as well as in interview setups where the subject wants to remain anonymous. This can also be a really unique and distinctive way to shoot scenes that have a lot of body movements such as things like action sequences or dance sequences.

You can find examples of where this has been used very well in movies such as Skyfall, The Book of Eli, and La-la Land. Also, I will include a pdf breakdown of this technique at the end of this article, so that you can grab that one to keep as a reference guide.

Lighting Setup to Create Silhouettes

Step 1: Radial Gradient On The Background

Let’s start with background because this is the area of the shot that’s going to have the most light in this setup. In our studio, we light our background with three lights. The first light that we use, is a small 1-foot light tube. This particular one is the bi-color P7 light by LUXCEO.

You can check it on Amazon Here. I position this light directly on the subject on a small, light stand and this creates the radial gradient on the background.  You can also achieve the same results by having a small spotted fixture with a reflector dish down on the ground on a floor stand.

To fill in the edges, I use two YONGNOU light sticks which I have put into place on either side of the background. I have also created some DIY barn doors which I’ve made out of black core flute and then I added some 216 diffusions to soften that light up even more.

But off course, you don’t have to do it this way. You can light your backdrop in any way that you like to create countless different looks. The only rule for this to work is that your backdrop is the area of your shot that has the most light falling on. So, you can get really creative with this element.

Step 2: Position Subject in Front of the Background

The next step is to position your subject in front of the bright background and voila, you have a silhouette. Now, you could stop right here and as long as you don’t have any light spilling onto your subject, you’ll have a nice sharp silhouette.

Step 3: Add a Backlight (Optional)

Though I like to take things one step further and add one more light into the mix. This creates a little bit more separation and helps your subject to really pop from your background. This is totally optional, but you’ll see this technique used quite a bit in those anonymous styles of interviews.


Well, there you have it. That’s how you light a silhouette, nice and simple. You can download the PDF form here. I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something today. Also, let me know what you think about silhouettes in the comments below. Thanks for being here. Good day.

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