In the olden days, travelling silhouette-makers would go from town to town with mobile studios creating bespoke portraits for a penny. Some makers would cut a likeness directly into paper without drawing it out first, while others painted the sitter’s profile using soot from fires. But when photography became popular, the silhouette became obsolete – well, almost.
The fundamental requirement for a nice, clear silhouette is a nice, clear profile picture (just the fl at outline of a subject, without a hint of 3D form). So, you’ll need to take a sharp snap of your subject in perfect profile.
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Ask your model to sit or stand – side-on – against a plain background of contrasting colour. This will make it far easier to see the profile in detail when it comes to cutting it out later.
If you use the fl ash to light your sitter, watch out for shadows: if your subject is too close to the wall behind, then the flash will leave a dark shadow around him or her, and you won’t be able to see where the person ends and the shadow begins. To avoid disastrous dark shadows, simply position your subject so that he or she is further from the wall, and you’ll see the shadow will ust drop away behind them.
When you take a 3D portrait it’s usually best to go for a shallow depth of field – but not in this case. To ensure that your sitter’s profile is nice and crisp (not shallow and blurry), you’ll need to select aperture priority mode and use a high f-stop number: f11 or above.
Once you’ve positioned your sitter correctly so that you’re happy with the lighting and his or her side profile, just press the shutter button.
Now you’ve got the profile picture, print it out to fit in the frame (see opposite). Use a colour printer to enhance the detail in the image; black-and-white can be a little confusing.
Next, carefully cut out the silhouette using scissors or a craft knife and cutting mat.
Once you’ve drawn around it, take a look back at your original image, scrutinising it to see if there’s any detail that you can add to the tracing. Taking that little bit of extra time to embellish something here or pop in little more detail there will make your final silhouette all the more spectacular. This is also the time to perform some cosmetic enhancements to your subject’s profile – a chin-tuck, perhaps? Rhinoplasty, anyone? Oh come now, you can’t tell me that those Victorian artists didn’t do it to ensure payment?!
Once the fiddly stuff is over, it’s time to mount your masterpiece on some white or cream card and then frame it. The Victorians favoured oval frames to show off their silhouettes, but you don’t have to spend a fortune – check out your local charity shop for a bargain buy. My frames were old cast-offs…
Grouping together framed family members on a wall looks great – like the father and son silhouettes opposite. Or you could experiment with silhouettes of pets or children’s favourite toys.