Challenges are a great way to push yourself in new directions, discover new skills and keep the creative juices flowing. Unless of course you’re me. 

Earlier this month I posted a challenge to myself, and to anyone else in our community, to take on the task of exploring silhouettes in photography. The challenge also included a chance to practicing basic composition. This seemed simple enough and I started the month with the best of intentions. I’ve been wanting to experiment with silhouettes for a few months now and this was a good opportunity to turn intention into action.

The Road to Hell… 

Lucky for me, my life is not hell, but it sure is busy. If you’re wondering why I’ve been taking so many photos of mini figures in the snow, the last three of four Fridays I’ve been traveling with my son’s school to the ski slopes. I was the parent volunteer emergency driver. In reality this meant that I worked in the lodge for a few hours and spent my afternoons in the snow taking photos. A win-win for sure but I lost three full days of work!  I spent much of the past month getting ready to participate in Chris Pirello’s Galaaxar.  Plus the San Francisco Toy Safari is in six weeks and there is still plenty to do to make sure the four days run smoothly.

I would like to say this is an anomaly, but unfortunately its pretty typical of what I do to myself. And ultimately why I shy away from photographic challenges. I love the sound of them, but taking them from idea to reality within a specific time frame, rarely happens. My working style is often too slow. I like to think about an idea for days or weeks, turning it over in my mind until I’m ready to pull the trigger. Rarely does this happen within the framework of a photo challenge.


When I researched how to take a photographic silhouette, almost all the examples where taken either at sunrise or sunset. I’ve taken plenty of these photos in the past. You know the type: black figure framed by gorgeous golden hour light.


But I was curious if you could take a successful silhouette in a less colorful situation.

White Walker

I also wanted to know how familiar the viewer needed to be with the figure. Did the mini figure need to be instantly recognizable, such as Batman, to work? What kind of story could I tell using an obscure figure like Snowy, of Tintin fame?


Also how important was the outline of the figure? Did it need to be an interesting shape, or would any figure work?

Loki with his son, Fenrir. (This image was inspired by Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. This book is a ‘must’ read for any fan of mythology, Gaiman or Marvel Comics movies – which is pretty much everybody. Right?)

I’m not sure if I successfully answered my questions. I do believe that the figure needs to have some distinctive outline to help the viewer to make a solid connection. Loki’s headgear identifies him immediately as the infamous and cunning trickster. But in the image of the White Walker, the mini figure could be anybody. Does it matter that it’s a White Walker, or is a generic specter of death enough? Do we need to know its Snowy with his oversized dog bone, or can he be a stand in for any ambitious dog?  How much detail do you need to tell a compelling story?

The Unfinished Task…

I enjoy taking silhouetted images of my mini figures. They are often some of my favorite images. I enjoy their simplicity and how composition, position and the outline all take on an oversized importance. So much information needs to be conveyed with a simple gesture. I regret that I didn’t have time to try my hand at a silhouetted image in the studio. I was inspired by a recent image from Luigi Priori that I would like to recreate. Its always fun to see interesting ideas from my fellow photographers and think how I could achieve the same effect.

Even though I never finish this challenge to my satisfaction, I realize its only the beginning. A photo challenge is simply one more step in the learning process.

Photography is a journey, not a destination.

~ Shelly

Do you enjoy participating in photo challenges? What was your favorite or least favorite challenge?