The history of Silhouettes & Contre-Jour
A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is basically featureless, and the whole is typically presented on a light background, usually white, or none at all. The silhouette differs from an outline which depicts the edge of an object in a linear form, while a silhouette appears as a solid shape. Silhouette images may be created in any visual artistic media.
Cutting portraits, generally in profile, from black card became popular in the mid-18th century, though the term “silhouette” was seldom used until the early decades of the 19th century, and the tradition has continued under this name into the 21st century. From its original graphic meaning, the term “silhouette” has been extended to describe the sight or representation of a person, object or scene that is backlit, and appears dark against a lighter background. Anything that appears this way, for example, a figure standing backlit in a doorway, may be described as “in silhouette”.
The advantage of the profile portrait is that, because it depends strongly upon the proportions and relationship of the bony structures of the face (the forehead, nose and chin) the image is clear and simple. Profile portraits have been employed on coinage since the Roman era.
Contre-jour, French for ‘against daylight’, refers to photographs taken when the camera is pointing directly toward a source of light. An alternative term is backlighting. Contre-jour produces backlighting of the subject. This effect usually hides details, causes a stronger contrast between light and dark, creates silhouettes and emphasizes lines and shapes. The sun, or other light source, is often seen as either a bright spot or as a strong glare behind the subject.
Fill light may be used to illuminate the side of the subject facing toward the camera. Silhouetting occurs when there is a lighting ratio of 16:1 or more; at lower ratios such as 8:1 the result is instead called low-key lighting.