6 tips for capturing sunbursts (sunstars) in your photos” />

By Toni Toreno 

Most photographers know the golden hours of the day are the best times to take outdoor and landscape photographs. The hours around sunrise and sunset when the sun is the least direct, and produces that warm, golden hue that gives photos a lot more life compared with the intensity of mid-day light. Although I do love the golden hour, I’m often encountering amazing scenery during the sunniest parts of the day, when the lighting might not be the most optimal. In order to get the best shot possible in these conditions, I will often try and use the sun to my advantage, actually shooting directly at it in order to create epic sunbursts.

I’ll admit, shooting directly at the sun isn’t considered the best idea in the world (they even tell you NEVER to do it in the manual), but if you set your camera to the right settings and use some simple tricks, you can get the desired sunburst effect without damaging your camera sensor. Here’s a few tips for how to capture those incredible sunstars in your photos:

1. Use Lens Filters 

Personally I keep a UV filter on all my lenses, all the time. Since I’m usually shooting outside and in pretty extreme weather, it’s easier (and cheaper) for me to replace a UV filter if of it gets scratched or cracked (which happens more often than I would like to admit) then a full lens. In addition, it gives me protection on my lenses, and thus my camera sensor, when I shoot during the peak hours of the day.

I will sometimes add a polarizing filter as well when shooting directly at the sun to limit the sun’s rays. Just like with polarized sunglasses it will deepen the colors and filter the sun from sensor damage.

It should also be noted to always be conscientious of your eyes when shooting at the sun as well. Try not to look through the view finder too long, and never look directly at the sun without quality eye protection.

Sunburst over the mountains
Photo by Toni Toreno

2. Shoot at Low ISO

So if you’re outside shooting in the middle of the day you’re probably not going to be set on a high ISO to begin with, but when it comes to shooting directly at the sun you want to make sure to keep it as low as possible. Keeping the ISO at 50-200 is a solid range to stay in. By doing this you are limiting the sensitivity to light on the sensor, and since you are directly shooting into the earth’s light source, it’s a good idea to limit as much as possible.

5 Tips for How to to Create a Sunburst or Sunstar in a Photograph
Photo by Toni Toreno

3. Small Aperture Is Key

The aperture refers to the amount of light that is let into the image. When dealing with direct sun you want to be sure to keep this at the smallest possible. Since higher the f/stop, the smaller the aperture it’s best to stay around f/16-f/32, or the highest f/stop your lens will allow. This will give the image limited amount of light coming through and highlight the sun’s rays.

*Note that if you shoot with a low f/stop (f/1.2 – f/5.6) and a high ISO (500+) you will undoubtable fry your sensor, so be sure to always double check both before pointing the camera to the sun.

Photo by Toni Toreno
Photo by Toni Toreno

4. Clear Skies Enables Direct Sunlight

Clouds are the best for filtering subjects if you do portraiture, BUT when you are looking to capture the sun’s epic rays, it can filter that as well and leave you with just a white circle. However, clouds can help to create a more enticing image. So if you don’t have clear skies, just be sure that the sun is fully out from behind any clouds to get the best burst effects.

Photo of Sunburst over a Mountain
Photo by Toni Toreno

5. Shoot “Through” Objects

If you want to define the sunburst even more you can control the amount of light from the sun to the image by shooting through something, like a tree. This limits the rays and creates a boundary for the sun to “burst” through.

When it comes to sunsets it also works to shoot as the sun is coming down over the horizon, creating a “half burst” effect. Whatever the sun is going behind creates that same boundary for the rays, but instead of shining through it will cast the rays over into the subject of the image.

Photo by Toni Toreno
Photo by Toni Toreno

6. A Clean Lens is Crucial

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shot amazing sunbursts shots and forgot to clean my lens. This means that along with the rays of the sun, you also capture sun circles all over the image…based on debris or water spots amplified by the direct sun. Unless you love spending hours editing them out in Photoshop (I personally do not), always keep a microfiber cloth handy and check your lens regularly.

Photo by Toni Toreno
Photo by Toni Toreno

Hope this gives you a little guidance on how to shoot amazing pictures during the day and add a little more “sparkle” to your images while you’re at it!

Happy Shooting!