Who doesn’t love the idea of discovering hidden treasure? When shooting on location, we search for scenes that will allow us to create unique, impactful images, like the award-winning photographs shared here in our own community. These images fuel our desire to push beyond our current limitations and capture moments that our clients will value for generations to come.


Despite our best intentions for creating amazing images, however, circumstances beyond our control sometimes get in the way. Whether it’s rainy weather or timelines gone awry, many factors can throw us off course and cause us to blank out creatively. The truth is, shiz happens, but we can overcome.

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If we truly prepare, which involves studying the work of others, practicing our technique, communicating with our clients to know their needs, and taking the time to scout the locations at which we shoot, then we can create amazing images regardless of the circumstances. Remember, stunning scenes may be hiding right before our eyes; we need only to recognize and then reveal their potential. To illustrate this point, we’re going to show you how to use off-camera lighting and Photoshop to create an amazing composite portrait in 7 simple steps.

Click right in the box below to see a behind-the-scenes video:

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Step 1: Scout locations inside & out

We suggest getting to know your location before the shoot begins. Search for the venue online to see how others have captured it before you, and then show up early on the day of the shoot to look for great scenes, both indoors and out (if possible). Even if you’ve already shot at the location, it’s worth exploring the space again to find angles you might’ve previously missed.

Step 2: visualize the final image

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 35mm f/1.4 at f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 100

Michelangelo once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” This concept transcends sculpture, really, and is applicable to other art forms, including photography. The image we see in our mind is there before us. We just have to use the tools available to us to bring it to life.

Step 3: Set up camera angle on tripod

After you’ve chosen your location, set your camera up on a tripod, and use the appropriate lens for your desired focal length. The tripod will provide the stability you need to capture multiple images for the final composite, which you’ll create in post.

Step 4: Dial in ambient exposure

Final Image (Bottom): Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 35mm f/1.4 at f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 100

Before adding lights, dial in the ambient exposure on your camera. The overall exposure for silhouette portraits tends to be on the darker side, so set your aperture, lower your ISO, and adjust your shutter speed to taste.

Note: We chose to stop down the ambient light to minimize location details and draw focus to the subjects as silhouettes and the wall art that framed them.

Step 5: Set up lighting

Here is a list of gear you can use to create amazing composite portraits:


Position the flash so that it is concealed behind your subject(s). It should be somewhat low, and the direction you face the flash will vary depending on the background and look you’re going for. For this image, the subjects stood fairly close to an art wall we wanted to highlight, so we directed the light away from the subjects. The spill of light on the wall also helped define our subjects as silhouettes.

Step 6: Pose couple as individuals & as a couple

Begin by posing each subject on his or her respective side. Because you’re photographing the subjects one at a time, be sure they’re facing the correct direction, which should be toward the center of the image. Also, as this particular image involves silhouettes, position the subjects so that their profile and features are clearly defined with separation between the arm and waist for the female subject, and a shoulder-width stance to add depth to the male figure’s pose (see image above). Without clear separation, the subjects will appear wider and less defined.


Step 7: Edit as composite in photoshop

We offer a number of tutorials for SLR Lounge Premium Members that cover topics like OCF techniques and creating composite images in Photoshop. These tutorials range in difficulty from beginner to advanced so that you can expand your skillset with our workshops and grow at your own pace.

It’s important to remember that we don’t need awe-inspiring backdrops to create amazing images. More often than not, the beauty of our surroundings needs only to be recognized. It’s up to us to visualize what’s possible and then make it happen rather than focus on our surroundings as is and limit our own potential.

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