7 Tips to Creating Star Bursts

Hopefully you have read my previous post on improving your sunrise photos.  Now that you have an excuse to get up early in the morning I though I would take this a step further and provide some ideas on how to get sun flares and star bursts. Most of the time you don’t really want to have the sun or a bright light in your photo.  But if the conditions are right you can create some interesting effects.

A reminder that pointing your camera directly at the sun can damage your eyes so be careful.

A star burst is where a point light source, such as the sun, has long fine rays of light coming from it.  Below are some tips to achieve this effect:

Tip 1:  It all about the aperture.  While some small cameras can achieve this affect it really requires the ability to set a very narrow aperture.  On your camera place it in to ‘Aperture Priority Mode’ then choose the narrowest aperture (largest number) you can – usually f22. What this does is create a very small opening.  Light entering lens passes through the small opening then diffracts (or bends).  This then hits the sensor creating the star effect.

The affect can change significantly depending on the type of lens you have and the number of aperture blades.  The more blades on the lens the more rays.

Tip 2: Try it in the morning.  It is easiest to get some nice sun bursts in the morning especially as the sun just breaks the horizon.  The sun is not as bright and easier to capture.  You will also see below that even in the morning I have used something to partially cover the sun reducing its brightness.

Tip 3: Play around with the angle.  Depending on the angle of the sun and your lens will create different effects.  Play around with the angle of the lens pointing slightly up, down or to the side.

Tip 4: Middle of the day – yes it can work then as well.  While pointing your camera directly at the sun in the middle of the day is not recommended there are still ways to get a sunburst.  You need to look for an object that can partially obscure the sun, for example a tree, person or other object.   You want to allow just a small fraction of the sun to pass the object.

Tip 6: Choose a different light source. Once you have given that ago think about trying another light sources.  For example the sun reflection of metal or water or even a street light at night.

Another similar effect is sun flare.  Rather than the sun (or other bright light) creating a star affect, a sun flare is where a section of the image is over exposed.  This can create some interesting effects. 

Tip 7: Don’t trust your camera exposure:  When taking both sun flare and star burst images you often cant trust your cameras automatic setting. The tip is to put your camera in Aperture Priority mode (or manual) and adjust the compensation by one or two stops.  If you don’t do this the photo will see the very bright light and try to average it out (leaving the rest of the photo under exposed).  Unless you are after a silhouette effect, by changing your compensation the bright light will become over exposed but the rest of the image will be correct.  For those who want to play more with your camera settings using ‘spot metering’ is a good way to get your subject correctly exposed.

There is also a cheats way for those that want to play around with photoshop.  I have only just started playing with a plug in called Topaz Star Effects.  I purchased this for night shots but it can also be used for sun flare affects such as these ones below.

Bonus tip: Experiment. One thing when playing with bright light is that it changes every second.  The fantastic thing about digital cameras is that you can experiment trying lots of different exposures and angles to get that unique photo.  give it a go.