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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

How to take great sunstar photos

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

If you've followed my work for a while, you might have noticed that I do quite a lot of photos with 'sunstars'. So if you like the effect, here's a quick guide on what they are and when and how to use them....

What is the sunstar effect?

The sunstar / sunburst effect is produced when taking photos of points of light using a very small camera aperture. Effectively what you are seeing are the blades of your camera lens that open to let light in. Note that it works best for POINTS of light, e.g. a streetlight or the sun just poking through a tree. It doesn't work well for large areas of bright light such as the full sun in the sky.

Why use the sunstar effect?

If you really want to shoot into the sun, it can be a great way of making the sun more of a feature in your photo, especially if the composition is lacking a focal point. A sunstar / starburst looks much more attractive than just a bright sun 'blob'. Because you are shooting at the sun, you will have the issue of having a very wide dynamic range, from very bright to dark shadows. This is best managed by taking brackets (different exposures) and blending them in software, but that's a whole new topic! This was how the photo above was created.

How to create a sunstar

First find a point of light, such as the sun just poking above the horizon at sunrise, or the sun poking through the leaves of a tree. You'll then need to have control over your camera aperture, either by using Aperture mode (where you set the aperture and the camera does the rest) or full Manual mode. Start by dialling in a small aperture (usually the smallest aperture, which on my lenses is usually f22). It's often best if you can to take the photo handheld, as small motions from side to side can have a big effect on the look of the sunstar. Look through the viewfinder, or on the LCD screen and move until you see a nice sunstar - then take the shot.

Note that because you are using a very small aperture, you will be cutting out lots of light, so you might well need a higher ISO if you still want a fast enough shutter speed to shoot handheld; otherwise you might have to use a tripod.

Note that the look of the sunstar is dependent on the lens; both the number of spokes, and to a certain extent the quality of the sunstar, will depend on the blade construction of the lens.

A landscape photo of Buttermere, Lake District, by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography
A sunstar over Buttermere, Lake District

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