Photo Critique: A Point-And-Shoot Sunset :: Digital Photo Secrets

Photo Critique: A Point-And-Shoot Sunset

by David Peterson 16 comments

This week, I challenged you to deliver some of the best point-and-shoot photos you could muster with your setup. The entire purpose of doing this is to convince you all that you do not need a high end camera to have an eye for photography and to produce great work. This photo, sent in by Clifford Spangler, is one such example. He told me he used “a 2002 Nikon Coolpix 4300 that is being held together with tape” to take it. It’s no less than impressive and a great reason for you to spend more time taking pictures and less time worrying about your next camera setup.

Clifford switched into his camera’s sunset mode to get this shot. You will notice that everything in the foreground is blacked out. In technical speak, this is a silhouette shot. While you can do these kinds of photos during the day, they look best at sunset. Colors come alive and contrast themselves with the foreground, adding drama to this warm scene.

How to create silhouettes without a “sunset mode”

If your camera doesn’t have a sunset mode, you can replicate it with the following settings. We discussed this in an earlier tutorial on how to create a “WOW” photo, but it bears repeating.

  • Point your camera at the part of the sky that is the color you want to capture. I tend to point my lens right at the darkest purple or pink patch I can find.
  • Set your aperture to F8 (an ideal aperture for sunset shots. It’s just clear enough to capture the important details).
  • Keep increasing your shutter speed (while pointing at the patch of sky) until your camera indicates that the shot is about to be overexposed. I have found that a combination of F8 and 1/250s works pretty well, but it all depends on the time of day. Play around with these settings until you find an ideal shutter speed. Just remember that whichever shutter speed you choose, it should be relatively fast.
  • Figure out how you want to frame everything in the picture, and then take your shot.

Make use of negative space!

Clifford made a few wise choices when it came to creating the composition in this picture. He could have done what a lot of people would have done and tried to get the sunburst next to the plane, but he didn’t. If he were to do that, the plane would have been too far to the right, and it would have conflicted with the sun.

As it is right now, the photo is framed pretty well. The major point of interest is the plane’s cockpit, and Clifford makes it his mission to place it in the upper right third. With the cockpit open, the plane takes up the entire frame from top to bottom. Were it otherwise, the picture wouldn’t have been as complex and interesting as it is.

There is one thing everyone needs to be careful with when it comes to taking silhouette shots. It is all too easy to take pictures of things that blend into one another too much. The best silhouette shots feature an isolated subject of some kind that breaks away from the congealed glob of blackness at the bottom of the photograph. The following picture is an example.

The skier is completely off on his own, and he balances out the black jump below him. Have another look at the photo of the tree in the “WOW” tutorial. Its branches are complex, creating the negative space that makes a silhouette photo really pop.

Clifford’s photo creates some nice negative space in the cockpit, hatch, and even the towers far in the background. Could he have created more? Depending on his camera’s lens, and how much he can zoom out, he might have been able to. He could have gotten as low on the ground as possible to try and capture some of the negative space underneath the plane.

This wouldn’t exactly be an easy task. He would have to line up the cockpit so it is still in the same third. This usually means looking a little strange and lying on your back with your camera pointing upwards. If there is a way to get people to treat you as a “serious” photographer, this would be it. Forget abut dropping money on a new setup. Just wear the nerd glasses and act the part!

Silhouette shots are the perfect kind of photo for point-and-shoot photographers to take. They don’t require any expensive gear, and they have a drama all of their own. These kinds of photos are a great place to start if you are thinking about learning flash photography. You need to learn how to create warm sunsets before you learn how to do the same with an expensive flash. Master these photos first, and then think about that upgrade.

I want to thank Clifford once again for this superb submission. I look forward to seeing more of your photos and continuing to explore these themes.

Most people think this post is Awesome. What do you think?


  1. coco service says:

    rxtvhs Im thankful for the article.Much thanks again. Really Great.

  2. Mario Dejonckheere says:

    Thank u for giving us the opportunity to learn more how to make a good picture.

  3. Benita Ollison says:

    Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog jump out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Appreciate it

  4. satish says:

    your series on digital photography was helpful to me to reach to the next level thans for the same

  5. MM says:

    For more than 4 years all my work has been with a P&S camera...have a look...

  6. David Peterson says:

    Email your photo to me at this special email address.


  7. Sonny Parsons says:

    How do we upload pictures for critique ?

  8. noeryanto says:

    Dear David,

    I am very much appreciate for the email and the sending article are so informative and helpful. Thank you very much indeed,

    Noeryanto, Jakarta, Indonesia

  9. Phil Parsons says:

    I enjoy and hopefully lean from reading these well considered appraisals. The aircraft silhouette is a good shot, but one comment I would make is to be careful not to clip off the top of the shot, in this case the canopy. Just a little clear space above it would have made a difference. Those are my thoughts away.

  10. N.E.Samuel says:

    My dear David,
    Thanks a million for sharing your vast knowledge with all. If I were a woman I would have used all the adjectives in calling you
    for intance:You are a real " Darling " or "sweetheart".Many proffesionals
    never like to share their expertise & that too for free.I can only say "May the Lord shower his choicest blessings on you and your family"-Amen.
    Keep up the good work,

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.