6 Tips to Create a Starburst Effect in Your Photos

6 Tips to Create a Starburst Effect in Your Photos

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A few years back when shooting a sunset I got a really cool starburst effect, I admit it, by accident :-). But then it became my obsession to recreate it and learn more about it. So, after doing a ton of research and testing, I narrowed tips down to six key things. In case you’re wondering, you cannot get starburst effect on your phone, at least not as good as an a camera. I’ve tried and looked into it, but phones don’t allow you to control aperture, which drives the starbust effect.

Sun bursting through the trees in Johnston Canyon, Canada.

Aperture

Shoot in aperture mode and choose a small aperture, I personally use f/22 or somewhere around it. The recommended range is between f/16 and f/25. The smaller the aperture the bigger starburst effect. You will have to play with your exposure and focus to make sure you’re getting the right amount of light in the right places.

ISO

Use a low ISO setting, such as a 100, you don’t want too much noise in your images. If you’re shooting at night, you will have to increase the ISO a little.

Zepfyr Cove on Lake Tahoe in California – you can also get starburst effect on the light reflections in the water. Check out the starburst on the goose shadow.

Filters

Remove UV and other filters from your lens. They can distort the light and make your starbursts not as sharp as you’d like them to be. If you’re not getting the results you’d like, there are star filters that can help you get that perfect starburst effect. These tend to diffract light better and get crisper effect. They also create rainbow effects and help make a beautiful overall setting in your shot. I personally prefer to use them with multiple lights (like Christmas lights or city lights), but they can be used with sun as well.

Sometimes you can get some unique effects – sunrise at the South Point on the Big Island in Hawaii.

Your Lens

Remember that lens hood that came with your lens and ended up in the bottom of your camera bag somewhere? Let’s get it out and use it for starburst. The lens hood will help block the light and keep your image from being too bright. If you don’t have a lens hood, you can use your hand to block the light as well.

Hatcher Pass in Alaska, catching the evening summer light.

Don’t point your camera’s lens directly at the sun as it could damage your eyes and the lens. In fact, I always close my eyes when I actually push the button to take the picture – I don’t know if that helps, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Sunset by McWay Falls in Big Sur, California

Not all lenses shoot the sun in the same way. Generally speaking, the more expensive and/or newer lenses will handle lens flare better than cheaper/older lenses. In addition, prime lenses tend to be better than zoom lenses at creating the effect. That said, all of the shots on this page we taken with an all-in-one telephoto lens.

Weather

The drier the air, the clearer the starburst effect will be. Water particles in the air scatter the light and make your sun fuzzy. The picture below was taken on a day when there was a heavy marine layer on the shore. While you can still get some of the effect, it won’t be as sharp and large as if you took the photo when humidity was lower. If there is a lot of smog or smoke from wildfires (which I experienced recently in the Rocky Mountains), that can also impact the sharpness of your starburst.

Natural Bridges Park in Santa Cruz, California
Myers Creek Beach in Oregon – it was a very hazy day and the sun light was too hazy to get a good sunburst effect even with an object covering part of the sun.

Setting the Scene and Experimenting

If you’re wanting to create a starburst effect when the sun is high on the horizon, use a foreground object to partially obstruct the sun. The starburst effect is not limited to shooting the sun. You can also get this effect with any bright light source. Examples include street lights, Christmas lights, moon, etc. If you’re shooting at night, you will need to use a tripod since your shutter speed will be slower.

Most of all, have fun experimenting, you may get some unusual results and end up with unique pictures.

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