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Photography 101: How to Make Sunbursts With Your Camera

If there’s one photography technique that can instantly up your shot-taking game and makes your snaps altogether more appealing, it’s creating sunbursts with your camera. Adding bright lights and star effects, also known as a ‘starbursts’ can create a unique effect and add more layers to your images with a few simple steps. Here’s your quick and easy guide on how to create sunbursts with your camera!

Taking a 1930s Tram from Turin to Reach the 18th Century Basilica di Superga

Step one: The equipment

In order to create sunbursts with your camera, you’ll need equipment which can take photographs manually. To make the most of image quality/ what you can actually do with your photo post-processing, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re capturing all your images in RAW format, as well as in the form of jpegs.

And yes, I know that doing this uses lots of memory space (I personally use SanDisk memory cards), but the amount of control you’ll have over the editing process later makes shooting in RAW well worth the card space. When it comes to which camera to use, I love my Sony A6000. It’s compact, lightweight, and the kit lens it comes with is a pretty versatile lens to learn on.

Step two: Finding your frame

Never look directly into the sun (obviously!) as this can permanently damage your eyes. You should also never point your camera lens or your eyes directly towards the sun as this can damage your lens (again, as well as your eyes!). Instead, find a clear and sunny spot and set up your camera in order to take the shot.

In order to make a full sunburst, the sun will need to be somewhere in the frame rather than just out of the shot. If you’re taking your photos in the daytime, then you may well want to partially block the sun with another object. To make your snapshot more interesting, then you can even do things like play hide and seek with the sun etc.

Although I call this technique ‘creating sunbursts with your camera,’ any light source is a potential to make stars with (as long as it’s bright enough). Headlights, reflected lamps, torches (including the one on your phone), and street lights are all possible light source contenders.

hotel de ville by night

When it comes to night photography, you’ll likely need a slower shutter speed to fully capture the shot and so should invest in a good tripod on which to place your camera. I personally recommend Manfrotto tripods (one of my best friends has one and I’m always asking to borrow it- haha). Investing in a good tripod is essential and please don’t find this out the hard way like me!

While in Poland last year, I was visiting the largest castle in the world with my best friend. I wanted to snap a few artistic shots and was using an incredibly flimsy tripod. Of course, the wind blew, my tripod fell over, and my lens completely and utterly broken! So yes, tripods can be expensive, but they’re not nearly as expensive as having to purchase entirely new lenses…

A step by step guide to making great sunbursts with your camera every single time: tips, tricks, and practical advice for improving your photography!

Step three: Adjusting your camera settings

The most important difference between creating a good sunburst and a great one is your camera settings! If you’re not already doing so, then not using the manual settings on your camera is one of the top photography mistakes you could possibly make.

In order to get a star effect in your photographs, you’ll need to set your aperture (f-number) pretty high. 12+ is normally a good starting point. How the aperture works is that the higher the chronological number, the less the amount of light getting into the lens (confusing, I know!). Without getting too technical, all you need to remember is that the higher the aperture number, the better the starburst effect!

In terms of your other manual camera settings, I recommend setting your ISO to as low a number as possible, in order to reduce noise. I personally try and keep my ISO at 100 or 125. When it comes to shutter speed, you’ll want to adjust for the light; I try and aim for between 1/100 and 1/500. Again every camera is different, as is every light condition. Play around with the settings while you’re trying to get that perfect shot!

Although you can start to create a slight starburst effect around f/12, if your lens goes to a lower f-number (many lenses go to figures in the 20s), then experiment and play around with the settings. Depending on light conditions, the position of the sun etc. the exact aperture number you’ll need to create a sunstar with vary and change every single time.

Step four: Let’s face it, it’s all in the edit!

While many people say it’s all about the capture, it’s just as much about editing at the end if you want a truly great final product. Be sure to invest just as much time- if not more- into editing the photo once you’ve finished.

Points of consideration when editing your photographs include colour saturation, shadows vs highlights and many more. When it comes to editing sunburst photos, you may well also want to increase the contrast, clarity and decrease the exposure in the area where the sunstar is to make it pop out more! From years of editing photos (and even occasionally selling them!) I’ve found that the best tool out there for amazing effects is LightRoom.

Enjoyed reading this quick guide to creating starbursts/ sunbursts with your camera? Pin it now, read it again later:

A step by step guide to making great sunbursts every single time: tips, tricks, and practical advice for improving your photography!

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