Shooting Silhouettes at Carlson Park, Riverside


Maria reaches skywards to catch a frisbee which I tossed amidst gusty winds along the Santa Ana bicycle trail by Carlson Park in Riverside. Mary Stover used a Cokin filter to give this silhouette a nice warm feel. Critical to most pictures is timing. A split second too late, the frisbee would be in Maria’s hands. A second too early, it would have been too far from her hands. This sort of extension adds interest to the strong graphical element of a silhouette.

After I made arrangements for my class to meet at Carlson Park this past Wednesday, I heard we were expecting showers.

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Of course there wasn’t a drop of rain.

Makes me wonder how meteorologists can predict global warming when they can’t get the forecast accurate for one day.

So instead of rain, we actually lucked out.

Instead of typical cloudless skies for sunset, we got some clouds to make our sunset and silhouette more exciting.


Shooting from the ditch at ground level to the wheels of the bicycle gave Delia a nice background. Notice how the hill and trees by the bicycle wheel are now tiny and hardly noticeable against our cloud covered sky. In Photoshop, I intentionally duplicated the layer and changed the blend mode to “Multiply” to darken the image.

jina_silhouetteI picked this spot by the Santa Ana river to meet for several reasons:

Uncluttered Background

Since we have an upcoming assignment called Silhouettes & Shadows, I needed a location without distracting huge ugly trees or the ubiquitous powerlines.

Strong backlighting

My class meets at 6 pm.

With daylight savings we have an hour of beautiful light if everyone arrives on time.

A Ditch

I knew I wanted a dramatic sky for a background.
That meant either my subject needs to be on something very high up above trees and hills or we had to have a way to shoot upwards at our subject.

Of course, we could have all laid down on the ground and pointed our cameras upwards.

But having a ditch worked better for our purposes. You see, some of my students for this evening class came right from work and were dressed in nice clothes.

After a brief background about silhouettes and how to expose for them, Maria was a good sport to be our model.

After pointing out how silhouettes need recognizable shapes and generally profiles work better, I introduced a frisbee to add a little more interest to our composition.

Every now and then, we got a chance to photograph a passing cyclist since we were on the bike path which runs alongside the Santa Ana river.

I’m told this bike path follows the river all the way to the beach.

Always Room for Improvement


Carlos holds my Canon 430EX Speedlite about a foot away from Delia while Mark(crouching bottom right) shoots with the wireless trigger. Windsor works a different angle but is shooting available light. The biggest advantage to using the cheap radio slaves that can be bought off ebay is that the trigger will work off any hotshoe. Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Sony doesn’t matter.
We based our exposure on Guide Numbers and manual exposure for the flash. By triggering the flash via the hotshoe transmitter, everyone in class was able to shoot with this setup. Not all our cameras had pc sync sockets on the body.

Delia spelled Maria as the model after a bit. By that point, I figured everyone had a decent silhouette of either an unsuspecting cyclist or Maria trying to catch the frisbee, so it was time for refinement and making the picture more interesting.

Adding one off-camera flash


Setting up–With Maria as my model, I consulted the chart on my flash’s manual with the zoom set at 105mm focal length. That gave me a guide number of about 15.The formula to determine the aperture is Guide Number divided by flash-to-subject distance. 15ƒ divided by f16 .

My students know I dislike on-camera flash, the way it makes a picture look. It’s for the most unimaginative and should only be used for those do-or-die situations.


I whipped out my cheap wireless radio slave which I bought off ebay, slipped the Canon 430 EX on the receiver and set it 1/16th power.


I checked my Guide Number and saw that if I placed my flash to my subject at about 1 foot, I could shoot at f16. (Guide Numbers are always for ISO 100)

The silhouette setting I was basing my exposure to get solid blacks or dark shapes without details was 1/250 sec at f 16, so this should work wonderfully.

Finally I adjusted the zoom on the flash from its automatic default to the 105 mm focal length. Why waste the light when it spreads out over a wide area?

Besides, I wanted the light from my flash to just light the face of my subject.

Just the face and not the rest of her body makes for a more dramatic picture. If I have a chance to do this over, I’ll fashion a simple snoot to narrow the beam of light even more. Maybe next time.

I’d like to thank all my students for sharing their pictures and especially Maria and Delia for being the models.

4 thoughts on “Shooting Silhouettes at Carlson Park, Riverside”

  1. Thanks Andy for pointing out my error. I will leave it as a reminder to myself to check my math and also to proof read before I post. Thanks for keeping me honest.

  2. Agree with the first poster – nice blog, I enjoy following it.

    One thing I want to point out on this example is that you used the incorrect value from the GN table: you used the GN for a distance in meters (10.8) whereas the distance you quote is in feet. Therefore you should be using the second number – 35.4.

    Looking at the image with the flash in frame, it appears the distance was more than 1 ft – nearer 2 ft perhaps? Using this value your f-stop would be calculated 35.4÷2=17.7. You note that f16 worked better after checking the histogram and that fits better with this calculation.

    Just shows that even when you work out exposure settings based on the flash tables, nothing beats checking the histogram!

  3. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I enjoyed KK. It was so peaceful compared to Penang where I grew up. Progress is inevitable but I hope to visit KK again one day soon. Very pleased you enjoy the blog. Tell your photography enthusiast friends about it.

  4. Nicely captured photo at the right moment. Landed on your blog while surfing for attraction on Kota Kinabalu. Nice blog.

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