Photography - Knowledge

Photography Basics: How to Create Starburst Effects in Photography

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Photography is an amazing way to bring out the hidden aspects of anything. It is also a great way to highlight or bring attention to certain facets that are often overlooked. All it takes is the right balance of aperture length and the lens type and you can practically create magic with your camera. Creating starburst effects is one such speciality of photography.

The sun peeping through the plants, the waterfall reflecting sunlight and city lights along a busy road are just some of the possibilities for capturing starburst images.

The Art of Capturing Starburst Effects

As the name suggests, starburst effects show a source of light not as a distinct point, but as a source of light with radiating light rays. Any source of light, like stars, lamps or the sun, can be clicked to have a starburst. Not only light sources but also surfaces that reflect light can be clicked in this effect. Reflected light also has the property of being captured in starburst form, and photographers have been able to capture some really great shots with reflected light.

This, however, is not by mere luck. There are certain things to keep in mind if you wish to capture a starburst shot. These tips and tricks are discussed below.

Smaller Aperture Means Bigger Starburst Effect

starburst shot
Aperture Matters (Source)

The wider the aperture opening, the more circular shaped the diaphragm is. A circular diaphragm has a lesser chance of diffracting rays of light. Starburst effect happens when light passes through a small aperture and gets diffracted. A smaller aperture means that the sides of the diaphragm are like a polygon, and light has more chances of getting diffracted from a polygon than from a circle. The smaller the aperture, the sharper the polygon of the diaphragm.

Very cool starburst patterns are achieved by the aperture of f/11, f/16 or f/22, but very small apertures will also decline the overall sharpness and quality of the image. For example, f/32 would produce excellent starburst effects, but the image quality will be average, at most. Therefore, we advise you to find a balance between the aperture and the sharpness.

Protect the Lens from Direct Sunlight

starburst image
The Right Amount of Sun (Source)

While you might want to click the sun for getting magnificent starburst images, it should not be forgotten that too much light is detrimental to the cause. Most of the time, it is possible to reduce the lens flare by trying to partially cover the sun behind a cloud or tree or a rock, so that just a little bit of sun is captured. With a bit of practice, you will be able to judge how much of the sun should be hidden to get a good starburst effect in the picture.

If it is not possible to hide the sun behind anything, you can still succeed in getting a great starburst shot. All you have to do is to click the sun when it is low on the horizon. At this position, the sun will not cause a generalised flare on the lens but only around the sun’s image. This picture might have a bit more haze than the ones in which the sun is partially covered, but with the right practice, you will be able to find the settings that don’t give a noticeable haze in these conditions.

Choose the Right Lens

starburst effect
Get it Right (Source)

Please bear in mind at all times that not all lenses will give you great starburst effects. This is because different lenses have a different flare handling capacity. In general, more expensive lenses are better at handling sun flares, resulting in better starburst images. Similarly, newer models of lenses are better at giving starburst shots than older models.

But we believe that there is no set definition of a good starburst. It depends on the overall picture. Therefore, judging a starburst image’s quality is a matter of personal choice too. A good thing to do will be to have a look at a few samples before purchasing a lens. Based on the number of aperture blades, the lens might produce a twinning effect in the starburst pattern.

Know About Filter Flares

Sometimes, the presence of an interfering filter in the camera might be detrimental to your attempts at capturing a starburst shot. It is common for UV filters to create their own flares, masking the desired starburst effects in the photograph. This can be corrected by removing the filter.

Capturing Starburst Lights at Night

starburst light
Nightlife in Starburst (Source)

Technically speaking, any source of light can be used to create starburst effects. A very beautiful manner of capturing a starburst light source is by clicking the picture at night. The dark background gives an amazing transformation to the starburst effects at night. The only additional point to remember for capturing night-time starburst shots is to have a longer exposure than during day-time. With some practice, you will be able to master the skill of taking breath-taking starburst photographic shots.

Capturing Multiple Starbursts in a Single Shot

starburst images
The More the Merrier (Source)

Once you have had a fair bit of experience in capturing single starbursts, you should try to capture multiple starbursts in a single frame. As mentioned before, reflected light is a great source of starburst shots. The reflected light is the best bet for these shots. Keep looking for light being reflected by vehicle or by water bodies.

Another very good way to capture multiple starbursts is to work with holiday lights, for example, on a Christmas tree. Each light source will give off a beautiful starburst effect. Play around with the colours of these light bulbs and you will get a frame-worthy shot.

Filters and Post-processing

If you are not happy with the starburst shots captured by your lens, don’t lose heart. You may add a starburst filter to your camera. These filters tend to diffract light better and yield starburst effects. They also create rainbow dispersion effects and beautify the whole shot.

Alternatively, photo-processing software like Photoshop can also be used to create these effects during post-processing. You will find elaborate tutorials for creating these effects using image processing software.

Safety Considerations While Capturing Starburst Effects

It is highly probable that you will attempt starburst shots with the sun in the frame. Therefore, you must not compromise the safety of your eyes and your equipment. Looking at the sun directly or through your camera could cause serious harm to both. Keep in mind that focused sunlight has the potential of practically frying the sensors of your camera.

Final Tip: Keep it Clean

starburst effects
Clean it Up

A very basic point that applies to all kinds of photography, yet forgotten by many, is to keep the lens clean. Marks, dirt, oil or smudges on your lens will make it difficult for you to capture starburst effects in their full glory. It might happen that you are unaware about the dirty lens and trying hard to get a perfect starburst shot. Regular cleaning up of the lens should be a part of your routine, regardless of whether you are using it for starburst photography or not.

Summing Up

starburst lights
Sky is the Limit (Source)

Once you start clicking starburst shots, you will learn a lot of fine details and improve your skill. Patience and practice are the keys to learn more about starburst photography. The more you shoot, the more you will know about how to shoot better.

Capturing starburst effects in your shots is not a very difficult task, but you should keep the above-mentioned things in mind. Photography is an art and is not bound by limitations. Feel free to explore. Look for situations that can be captured as starbursts. Do share your experience with starburst photography.

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