Sunset is a great opportunity to create portraits in silhouette.

Shooting at sunset poses a big challenge for your camera's metering system. Why? Smartphone camera sensors have a fairly limited range of brightness levels they can capture in a single shot. If the camera sets exposure to properly  illuminate your subject, the setting sun becomes an overexposed white orb. But if the camera lowers brightness to avoid this, then your subject will be too dark.

The solution? Forget about trying to get both your subject and the sun at a "normal" exposure level. Instead, shoot into the sun and force your camera to use an exposure so dark that your subject appears in silhouette. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, this approach has a number of benefits.

Colorful, dramtic skies and rich, dark silhouettes are the hallmarks of creative sunset photographs.

First, by lowering the exposure you can capture more saturated colors with a rich blue sky and clouds bathed in a brilliant orange glow. And because you won't be seeing any details of your backlit subject, you can look for scene elements with bold, graphic shapes without regard to their color or physical condition. You'll find that some elements become more interesting in silhouette.

OK, so how do you do it? Android phone owners can use their built-in camera app to bring down exposure. The screenshot below is from an HTC One X running Android's Ice Cream Sandwich and HTC Sense 4.0. Note that various flavors of Android and manufacturer UIs will differ in appearance but have similar functionality.

On the HTC One X, you can tap the Settings icon and choose the Image Adjustments pulldown menu. Move the Exposure slider as far to the left as possible (shown in red) and everything except the sky should fall in shadow.

While Apple doesn't provide direct exposure settings in its native camera app, iPhone users can take advantage of the fact that their camera biases exposure towards the area on which it locks focus. When shooting a sunset, tap the screen in a section of the sky to acquire focus, and the overall exposure will darken. For an even better solution though, the very popular Camera+ iPhone app lets you lock focus and exposure independently, on different areas of the scene.

Once you see nice rich shadows on your screen, look for interesting shapes that convey the mood or feel you're after. It could be a couple holding hands while taking a romantic stroll on the beach. Or a child jumping with delight.

The possibilities are limitless once you start looking. And once you've found your subject there are many options for making a good image even better. Let's take a more detailed look at the image that opened this article.

Here are three compositional elements at play that make this an interesting shot.
1. My subject's high-angled baseball cap makes a bold, graphic shape.
2. I positioned myself so that the horizon is aligned with the middle of my subject's head, neatly dividing the scene into light and dark regions.
3. His head obscures the sun itself, allowing only its radiant glow to emanate from either side of him.

This is but one example of the many possibilities for sunset photography. (We'll look at using a fill flash for this type of shot in another article.) I encourage you to discover your own!