Inspiration from my Students

This week’s post, and image, is inspired by my History of Photography online course. As a group this past week, we discussed art forms, techniques and devices that were all used pre-1800, however, eventually made their way into photography and even into today’s trends and techniques. My students were required to find one of these examples and post samples, and discuss the evolution of said art form, technique or device from yesterdays use in art to todays applications in photography.

The use of the silhouette was brought up in our discussion, and the early use of the paper cutout portrait, an inexpensive miniature portrait alternative in the mid-18th century, was identified. We then discussed how the silhouette is used in today’s photography. Often when we want to create a silhouette, we look for something that has a beautiful form and shape, as that really speaks to illustrate the subject as a whole versus all the fine details we might see in a regularly lit subject. And, that subject generally has strong back lighting, to create this dark on light effect.

While this is not mid-18th century, we'll call it circa 1977!
While this is not mid-18th century, we’ll call it circa 1977!


Portraits were discussed, as this is a popular technique to use to illustrate the love of a couple, for example, kissing on a beach in front of a magnificent sunset. In an image like this, you only see the darkened outline of the couple, but the message is clear. I asked my students for additional input and more examples where a silhouette might be used successfully and we eventually posted landscape and architectural photography to our discussion as well.

Thinking about this technique reminded me of an image I shot about a year and half ago in San Francisco. This was made with a vintage Nikon S2 rangefinder camera, with a lens that often gives me questionable sharpness…but that’s part of the fun of it! And, as I started looking at this image for all its silhouette qualities, I also noticed another topic discussed this week, aerial perspective.

Aerial perspective (noun):

            A technique of rendering depth or distance in painting by modifying the tone or hue and distinctness of objects perceived as receding from the picture plane, especially by reducing distinctive local colors and contrasts of light and dark to a uniform light bluish-gray color.

While, my shot is a B&W image, so the “bluish-gray” doesn’t exactly apply, the faint stand of trees in the background serves the same purpose, to provide a rendering of depth and distance. Pretty cool! It really is fun to dissect an image based on inspiring conversations with my students!


San Francisco Silhouette
San Francisco Silhouette
Skip to content