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Four Tips for Starbursts

Any small light source in your photograph can potentially become a starburst, and finding creative ways to use them in your pictures is fun. These tips will help you build a formula for making starbursts anytime you want.

1. Appropriate Aperture

The most common tip for making starbursts is to use a very small aperture, like f/22 or f/16. While this is generally true, it’s not a hard rule. Depending on your camera and lens combinations, you can get starbursts at much wider apertures, as well. I know that with a few of my lenses I can get good light rays at f/5.6 or f/8. This is important because often your lens’s smallest aperture just isn’t as sharp as if you open up a stop or two. You’ll just have to practice and see how your favorite lenses perform. You’ll also find that the quality of the bursts changes with each lens. For instance, a lens with a nine-bladed aperture will have many more rays than a lens with only five blades in the aperture (start noticing this when you watch movies and TV).

Levi_Sim-1-2
f/22 is a safe bet for making a starburst, but you should practice to find your sharpest starbursting aperture.

2. Small Lights Burst Better

A small aperture will help, but smaller lights burst better. That’s why we always see the sun bursting in wide-angle shots. Using a wide angle lens diminishes the apparent size of the sun and makes it give terrific light rays. It’s much more difficult to get the sun to burst with a telephoto lens because the sun is so much larger in the picture.

However, you can also cheat the size of the light by obscuring it behind another object. Not only will it be easier to get good bursts, but you’ll also get less flare in the lens from smaller sources. The lens flare was too distracting in this first shot, so I waited until the sun was a little lower and more obscured and shot again. I like the second better because the flare is gone, and the starburst becomes a garnish to the scene instead of the dominating feature.

3. Long Exposures Make Longer Bursts

Including lights in your composition at nighttime can yield good starbursts. When you do a long exposure at night, you’ll notice that the rays in the bursts become longer and more well defined. This requires a steady platform, like a tripod or Platypod or else the bursts won’t be crisp. The bursts become much more defined when the exposure is more than one second long.

4. Mitigate Colored Lens Flare in Lightroom

Certain cameras and certain lenses will have very colorful lens flare that may distract from the shape of the burst or of the rest of the scene. Use Lightroom’s HSL/Color/B&W tab to reduce the saturation of the distracting colors. I often drop the Magenta slider all to the left. You can use these sliders to flavor your starbursts with more or less of each color. Try the Hue section and see if you can’t alter one color to become another.

Levi Sim-1-3

Conclusion

I enjoy bringing starbursts into my scenes. They add a little flavor and pop to otherwise dull sections of a picture. Use a small aperture, obscure large lights, and use long exposures and you’ll have people oohing and ahhing over your starbursts in no time.

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