Sometimes, the simplest techniques can create a big impact and improve the images you take.
For example, when shooting against the sun or bright street lights, instead of having a boring white blob of light, you can tweak your settings a little bit and achieve ‘starbursts’ to add more impact.
Starbursts are those little twinkly stars that you see in the image below. You can also achieve the same effect with the sun of course, and any bright point sources of light. The secret lies simply in … how you set your aperture.
If you have a DSLR or a camera that gives you full control over your aperture (and a proper lens), you just need to close down the aperture to at least f/14 or above. The smaller your aperture, the more pronounced the star shape is. This is due to the aperture blades inside your lens. This very small opening creates a diffraction of the light, which causes a bright source of light to become a starburst shape when it hits the camera’s sensor.
The shape of the star and the number of points depends on the number of aperture blades included in your lens. For example, in the image above, the stars have 8 points, because my lens has 8 aperture blades.
To try it yourself, start by switching to Aperture mode (Av) or Manual mode if you feel brave, and set your aperture to at least f/14, up to f/22. Keep in mind that the smaller the aperture, the more pronounced your stars will be, but you might also encounter issues with dust on your images if your sensor is not clean. Just a warning ;)
If you’re shooting against the sun, be careful and follow obvious safety rules (don’t look straight into the sun through your camera and don’t leave your lens pointed to the sun for long periods of time). If you are taking photos at night, you definitely need to stabilize your camera. Use a tripod or a wall.
And then just shoot away!
Here are a few tips to make it easier:
– Starbursts are easier to achieve if you use a wide angle lens instead of a zoom lens. You can take wide angle images and then crop them later if needed.
– To achieve the effect on the sun, it’s much easier if it’s partially blocked by something in the foreground, like tree branches or a mountain in the horizon. The image below has the sun shining through the branches, which makes it easier to shoot straight at.
– You can also use a special “starburst filter” in front of your lens, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend that. That’s just for the lazy!
The effect also works great with street lamps and, of course, Christmas lights. Keep that in mind for the end of the year when taking Christmas tree shots.
So go ahead, experiment, take a few shots and don’t hesitate to share! I’d love to see what you come up with.