How To Create a Sunstar in Your Photos

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The sun is pretty awesome. But you know how you can make it even more awesomer? Turn it into a sweet starburst. One of the coolest things you can do when you have the sun in your picture is to turn it into a starburst.

It gives it some character, makes it so much more than simply a blown out spot in your photo,[fade out poppies.jpg] and the process is easier than you think, so let me show you the four simple things you need to start making radical sunstars.

First and most importantly, you need to use a high f-number to create a small aperture; the smaller your aperture, the more the sun’s rays will diffract and cause the burst. Generally speaking f/16-f/22 is a good range to use.

Next, the starburst effect is best when the sun is as tiny as possible. The more pinpoint the light source the better. So while you can make great sunbursts when the sun is high in the sky, try shooting it just as it [whitney.jpg] comes up over a mountain, or just as it begins to pass behind another object in your frame, like a tree branch.

Also, it’s important that the air be clear when you try to do this. Any haze in the sky or clouds blocking the sun will significantly reduce the burst effect.

In my Death Valley Flowers photo you can see the sun is being filtered by the clouds and while the light rays still show up a little bit, they’re nowhere near as prominent as they would be if the sun was unobstructed, like in this photo when the sun dropped into a clear slot in the clouds.

Because you’re putting the insanely bright sun in your frame you have to pay close attention to your exposure otherwise you’re likely to end up with a pure white photo.

I find that underexposing by two stops is a good place to start, just pay attention to your histogram to make sure you don’t clip your shadows while trying to tame an untamably bright sun. [fade in trees2.jpg] Then use a program like Lightroom to recover the darker parts of the photo.

If you have the previous four things nailed then I can just about guarantee you’ll see a sunburst in your photos. But it’s also important to note that your lens itself plays a big part in the process. The number of aperture blades your lens has, as well as the shape of those blades, makes a huge different in how your sunburst will appear, and there’s a lot variation between different lenses. So experiment with the lenses in your line up to see what works best for you.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Josh
    You say f16-22 at the start of your video will create a good star bust and yet your images at the end are shot at f/4 f/2.8 ? i think the latter would apply as 16-22 would over expose to much.

    1. Hi William,

      Good question! The photos at the end of the video were all shot at f/16-f/22 as well. The notation over each photo is the name of the lens used to take the photo, not the actual f-stop I used. I probably could’ve been a bit more clear about that in the video, but hopefully this explanation helps.



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