Old 03-23-2007, 10:22 AM   #1
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Default Silhouettes

OK, I need some help here. I've never been able to get a good Silhouette shot, It's just a regular backlit shot whenever I try. The other day I found the perfect lighting condition and the perfect time, but the train was late, came up the valley about two minutes after I lost the lighting. As you can see from the shot (or not, let's see if I can get it added before bed time) I have decent settings on my camera for a still, but I'm missing the train Cruising across the Trestle at 90 MPH. What would a good shutter speed (and F-stop) be to freeze a relatively high-speed passenger train moving across the scene? I'm assuming I'd need to open the F-stop way up and speed the shutter up to as fast as possible.

FYI: I'll likely try this shot a little sooner in the evening, the Coaster runs every 30 minutes at that point in time.
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Last edited by jaanfo; 03-23-2007 at 11:24 AM.
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Old 03-23-2007, 10:58 AM   #2
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Default Silhouettes


If the subject is moving fast (90mph) across the frame then you are constrained by having to use a shutter speed to stop that movement. To some extent the distance you are from the subject will play apart in choosing that speed, if you are a good distance away you will get away with a slower speed than if you were close in. At 90mph the train is moving across your field of view at 132 feet per second, 132/1000=0.132ft or 1.5 inches. so to stop your train will need a high shutter speed.

You could of course pan your shot and therefore use a lower shutter speed.

As for the silhouette, having decided on you shutter speed take a reading from a section of pain sky that will form the back drop of your shot, use this reading to decide your aperture at the chosen shutter speed.

At the early stages of trying this type of shot you could try using +/- one f stop to get the effect you want.

You don't say if you are shooting film or digital?

If you are shooting film then you can try your f stop variations before the train passes, that way you'll get the sky to look how you want it.

Some snappers try to expose to get a little detail in the train, some go for near black, the choice is yours.

The above is for guidance, you will have to experiment to get the effect you are looking for.

Also, choose a location where the train is clear of any other items that would distract from your silhouette, line side structures etc.

Hope this helps

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Old 03-23-2007, 11:29 AM   #3
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Thanks for the tips Alan, I'm well past bed tiome so I'll have to re-read it tomorrow when It makes sense to me though.

In the meantime, I shoot digital with either an Olympus SP500-UZ (PAS) or a Nikon D40 (SLR) depenfing on what's available and what I need. I find that, as currently equipped, action shots are better on the PAS while stills are better on the SLR... but since this shot needs a lot of photorapher input I'm planning on using the SLR.

I want to go for near black, the lightin in the shot above should help with that idea there.

Thanks again!
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Old 03-23-2007, 01:06 PM   #4
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you could try to double process one raw image.

take the photo for a middle exposure. then, adjust one version of the image for proper lighter tones, and one version of the image for proper darker tones.

merge the two images into one, and you should have an image with properly exposed lights and darks.
best regards,

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Old 03-23-2007, 06:09 PM   #5
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For a silhouette to work, you need light behind the train, revealing its shape. If you are shooting a more or less 3/4 shot, all you will get is a black blob. You want to be nearly broadside, so the light will show under and between the cars and for a passenger train, through the windows. On your bridge shot, shoot just as the train reaches the sun, then continue shooting as the train passes in front of the sun. Decide after which you like the best.

As far as exposure is concerned, I find that if you set your camera on shutter priority, choosing a suitable shutter speed to match the speed of the train and then set a minus 1/3 to 2/3 exposure compensation, you will get a rich sunset sky and the shot will be good. For manual settings, do as Alan suggested, aim at the sky (but not the sun) and take your exposure from it.

Michael Allen
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