Sunstars are a cool and effective way of turning a pretty photo into a great one. You may have seen apps that will add sunstars with little or no effort from you, the user. However, natural sunstars always look better (and come with a greater sense of achievement)… And so here’s a quick guide on how to make sunstars!
Recently, a friend asked me how I got sun stars in my photos. First thing’s first, as with everything in photography, practice makes perfect! I’m already a massive fan of the puddlegram and have recently started to experiment with sun star features in my pictures on Instagram. They are interesting to see and, given the right weather conditions, always add a little sparkle to your photos.
There is only one basic requirement for being able to creat sunstars: If you can control the aperture number on your camera, then you’re good to go! There are three basic (and easy) steps for how to make sunstars:
Sunstars work best in the manual mode where you can control shutter speed, ISO and aperture number (on most cameras, the manual function will be under the ‘m’ on the function dial).
The main trick in creating a sunstar is to push the aperture number as high as it will go. Aperture functions a little like this: the lower the aperture number, the smaller the depth of field and so the more ‘background blur’ you’ll have in your images. For example, when you see an image of a cake and the background is all blurry, this was taken with a low aperture number. The higher the number, the more in focus everything will be in the image. For example, landscape images where everything is in focus, all the way to the boats on the horizon. The aim of pushing the aperture number as high as it will go is to get the sun ‘more in focus‘ and therefore into more of a star shape.
Higher aperture numbers will also less let light into the camera, meaning that the sun’s brightness will be dulled enough to turn it into a star shape.
In order to counterbalance the lack of light as a result of the high aperture number, you’ll have to use a longer shutter speed. This will occasionally mean that you’ll need a tripod (particularly at low-level lighting settings such as dawn and dusk) in order to avoid shaky camera lenses!
Unless it can’t be avoided, I normally try and keep the ISO levels down to a minimum to avoid noise and make the post-processing easier later on. Incidentally, I always shoot RAW so that I’ll have an easier time when post-processing the photos later on. I also try and underexpose my photos as it is ten times easier to bring out detail rather than trying to add detail that was never taken in the original capture.
2. Blue skies
The weather is a key element in being able to make perfect sunstars. This is because Sunstars exclusively require cloudless skies; even a thin layering of cloud can diffuse the light, ensuring that the sun is not strong enough to create a ‘star’ shape.
3. Play around with perspective
They say that practice makes perfect… and ‘they’ are not wrong. When you’re learning how to make sunstars, make sure to practice sunstars whenever you have the opportunity and don’t be afraid to play around with perspective.
Although any aperture camera will be able to take sunstar pictures given the right conditions, the wider the camera angle lens, the better. This will allow you to compose your sunstar images more easily during the middle of the day when the sun is higher in the sky and further away from the horizon.
Sunrise and sunset (otherwise known as ‘golden hour”) are the easiest times for incorporating sunstars into your photos as the sun is lower down in the horizon and so easier to add into your composition.