A sun flare or starburst is an artistic photographic technique that can be achieved without any special post-processing or editing tricks. By controlling how light enters the camera, we can make some really compelling images, here’s how.
The key to capturing starbursts
To capture starbursts, we need to stop down to the minimum aperture of the lens. This is usually f/22. This makes the actual size of the aperture smaller, allowing less light in. The smaller hole is what gives us the beautiful starburst effect.
Best gear to use
With the aperture at f/22, less light will pass through the sensor, so we need to keep the shutter open longer. Trying to handhold the camera is next to impossible — a sturdy tripod is required.
To avoid camera shake, and to control the shutter speed in bulb mode, a remote trigger is a great accessory. This will keep your hands free from accidentally bumping the camera when you take the shot.
Setting up the shot for starbursts
Look for a location with lots of pleasing lights. If you’re new to long exposure, place your camera in aperture priority and take a quick test shot with an open aperture of f/5.6 or f/2.8. This will give you a faster shutter speed, allowing you to view the image quickly.
Warning: The image will not look good. Our intention here is to frame the shot and see what effects the lights have on the image. When you’re ready, set the camera in manual mode with an aperture of f/22 and a shutter speed of about 30 seconds. Adjust your ISO to achieve the proper exposure.
Experiment in Bulb mode
Using a remote trigger, set your shutter speed to Bulb mode. We’ve already established we need a 30-second exposure from our last photo.
This time, see what happens when you leave the shutter open for 25 to 35 seconds. Keeping the same settings, count out loud while holding the shutter open. Keeping the shutter open longer will allow more light to pass through to the sensor, making the image brighter. A shorter duration will make the image darker.
The key to capturing sun flares
The same concept of capturing a starburst can be applied to capturing images of the sun, moon and sun flares. We need a small aperture, f/22, to keep the sun or moon from looking like a white glob.
The only difference is shutter speed. Since we are dealing with more light, we can afford to use a faster shutter speed. To capture the sun’s flare, find an object to hide the sun and adjust yourself until just a sliver of the sun shines through. When you see the bright flare from the sun, quickly take the shot and move away.
You will see spots, so make sure this shot is toward the end of your shoot.
Normally, a longer exposure will capture richer colors. To keep proper exposure, adjust your ISO or add a neutral density filter. The best advice is to experiment and have fun as you capture the beauty of starbursts and sun flares.