Turn your subject into a silhouette
Transform your backlit scenes into stunning silhouettes using the versatile pen tool and gradients in Photoshop
In order to capture a silhouette in-camera you need to meter and expose for the light in the background of the scene as apposed to the light on your foreground subject. This works particularly well on location, when you’re shooting during sunrise or sunset, as the landscape will naturally be backlit. If however, you’ve missed the opportunity to capture a silhouette in-camera, you can simulate the effect in Photoshop.
In this tutorial we’ll show you how to create a convincing silhouette effect. Follow along in Photoshop and discover how to use the powerful pen tool, layers and gradients to get great results. You’ll learn how to create an accurate selection of your foreground subject and turn it into a silhouette shape using the pen tool. We’ll also take you through applying a gradient and using curves for a great finished image.
Open your image in Photoshop and start by adding a new blank layer. To do this, select the ‘Create a new layer’ icon at the bottom of the layer palette. You can now select the Pen tool from the tools panel on the left. Select path mode and Auto Add/Delete.
Zoom into your image and place the first anchor point down on a sharp edge of your subject. Continue adding anchor points as you work around the main outline of your subject. You can create separate paths for more intricate areas later if necessary.
If you make a mistake, you can remove an anchor point by holding down ctrl and clicking on it to remove. You can also curve a line by adding an extra anchor point between two and pulling it in or out.
Once the main outline is complete, join your last anchor point with the first. If there are areas that need to be cut out of the selection, such as windows, you can do this on the same layer using the same technique you used to make the overall selection.
You’ll now need to ensure your foreground colour is set to black and when you’re happy with the pen selection, select Shape from the Make options along the top bar, this will fill your silhouette selection with black. Adjust the layer opacity for more convincing results.
You can now silhouette areas of your subject that were difficult to select initially. Follow the same steps outlined previously using the pen tool selection technique and finally convert it to a shape for a black fill.
You can now darken the foreground by adding a gradient. Add a new blank layer in the layers palette to do this and then select the gradient tool from the tools menu. Ensure that the foreground colour is still set to black.
Select the ‘Linear’ gradient and ‘Foreground to Transparent’ options along the top bar and then position the cursor centrally along the bottom edge of your image. Hold down the cursor and then drag the vertical line up to add your gradient.