Make a Starburst - tyneholm
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Make a Starburst

Assignment L45

A sun flare or starburst can really add sparkle and impact to your landscape images. This effect shows the sun, or any bright light source, as a near-perfect star, with rays of light radiating from the center. You can capture the effect using almost any camera type, but using an interchangeable lens camera-with adjustable aperture-will give you more control over the look of the final image. 

The sunburst effect is the result of light diffraction, which is simply the bending and spreading of light waves. The smaller the opening that light passes through, the more light diffracts, so if you select a small aperture in the region of f/1 6 or f/22 you will exaggerate the effect. Experiment with different apertures, and go even smaller if necessary. 

The number of rays from each starburst is related to the number of aperture blades in the lens being used. Typically, the more blades, the better the starburst. Diffraction will soften overall image quality, but it is worth it in this case for the creative effect. Your brief is to capture one great landscape image with a perfect starburst. 

Achieving a good exposure can be difficult due to the high level of contrast caused by shooting into the light. Expect the very center of your starburst to be clipped and a small amount of highlight detail to be lost, but everything around it should be fine. If you are struggling for correct exposure, you can extend dynamic range by bracketing and merging two or more images together in post-processing (see “Exposure Blending”, L43, Shooting Stars). 

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  • To create the best starburst effect, shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority exposure mode and select a small aperture, such as f/16.
  • Shorter focal lengths are best for creating good starbursts, as (proportionally) the lens opening is smaller. 
  • Try partly obscuring the sun behind a solid object-the darker the area around the starburst, the more the light rays will stand out in your photo. 
  • Turn on your camera’s highlights alert to check if you are losing any highlight detail-and apply negative exposure compensation if needed. 

Field Notes

  • You may wish to capture the sun directly and unobstructed, but always take care when pointing a camera directly at the sun, as this can be harmful to your eyes. 
  • The risk of unwanted flare is enhanced when shooting toward the sun, so check that your lens and filters are spotlessly clean. You may still need to tidy up any undesired or colorful lens flare using the Clone or Healing Tool in post-processing.