Seeing Stars: How to Create Sunbursts

Photographing the drama of backlighting

by Kerry Drager

Backlighting always offers great opportunities to capture dramatic scenes. But for a really dynamic effect, you might also want to include part of the sun. Yes, a star filter does some very magical work, but I prefer to create my own sun stars! You can too - learn how.

Sunset Sunburst (3)
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- Start with a bright, low-in-the-sky sun. Then, compose the scene so just a small piece of the sun peeks around a building, monument, tree, or other object.

- Use a small lens opening in order to get the effect - preferably, your lens's smallest aperture (highest f/stop number).

- For the strongest sunburst, remove ALL filters ... since it can cause extra lens flare or splotches of light in your picture.

Old Rocker Silhouette
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- For the best results, use a wide-angle focal length - preferably a fixed wide-angle, although a wide-angle zoom can produce an excellent effect too!

- Like any silhouette shot, getting the right "look" can be tricky. You may need to use exposure compensation, although I generally take an alternate meter reading off a middle-toned part of the sky ... not the brightest area, not the darkest. Another possibility is to go with an overall averaging reading, as long as your meter is reading a fairly even mixture of both darks and brights.

Coastal Silhouette-Horiz.
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- Caution: Be careful looking directly at the sun through your viewfinder ... not good for the eyes! Tip: I compose the photo with the sun totally blocked by the tree, tower, or whatever ... then, when things are just about perfect, I move the camera ever so gently so that some of the rays burst out from behind the object.

- If your camera has a Depth of Field Preview mode, activate it and actually see the sunburst effect before shooting!

Lastly ...
This is a technique that requires photographing and evaluating your results, and then repeating the process.

Good luck as you shoot for the stars!

About Author Kerry Drager

Author: Kerry  Drager

To learn more about photography, explore the photography classes offered here at BetterPhoto.