Ever since I discovered that some people assumed my sun stars (aka sun bursts) were added in Photoshop, I’ve been meaning on writing a blog on how to shoot them. I’m passionate about getting an image right in camera and whether sunrise or sunset, I’ve always enjoyed shooting toward the sun where the light is much brighter and more dynamic. On occasion, shooting the sun so it is rendered like a golden star can be a great addition to your image. Ever wondered how it’s done? Read on and check out my video below for a quick tutorial on how to shoot them.
Firstly, know when and when not to incorporate a sun star into your image. Review your composition and if you feel something is missing then a star can be a nice touch. Keep in mind that they can also be distracting, particularly if rendered too big. Always consider shooting the same scene with and without the sun star so you always have the option on which one to use once you get home.
Light – For more manageable light, definitely shoot in golden hour as the light is softer and also nicer looking. The sun also can’t be behind any cloud as it won’t be strong enough. The best time to shoot is when the sun is very close to the horizon.
Aperture – As mentioned in the video, the smaller your aperture, the bigger the star will be. Unfortunately lens clarity goes down hill a little when we close our aperture down too much so I often avoid going as far as F22 or F22 however you can always shoot the sun at that aperture and then blend it in if desired. My general ‘go-to’ f-stop is F16 which I find is still good at rendering a star and still has decent clarity and depth of field. Also note that every lens will create a different shaped star and unfortunately the cheaper kit lenses struggle to produce anything decent.
Cause the light to bend – Partially blocking the sun and making it ‘bend’ around an object will strongly help render a nice burst. To do this, you can use anything you like. Common things I use are trees or rocks, sometimes even clouds can work if there is a slight gap between two. The sky is the limit!
Lining up and avoiding flare – I won’t lie, sometimes rendering a nice clean star can be frustrating especially when the star is coming out too bright or you’re getting a flare in your image. It’s critical to make sure your lens is clean and also avoid using any filters in front of your lens if possible. You can often line the sun up with your eye sight first in order to get a rough idea of where to be with your camera. To fine tune the size of the star, I generally use a tripod and then make very slight movements to the side, using my live-view to watch the sun size change. If you are getting a flare it may be because of the angle at which the light is hitting your lens so consider changing your composition or worst case you blend two exposures. Capture one exposure with the sun star and flare then cover the sun with your finger (which will remove the flare) and shoot that exposure then blend the two images.
Well, that just about sums it up. Like most things, the best way to learn is to get out there and have a go! Please feel free to leave any questions below or let me know what photography tip you might be interested in next! For tips on how to photograph lightning, click here. If you would like to join me out in the field for a week of shooting with like-minded photographers, you can find my 2017 workshop details here.