How To Get A Starburst In Your Photo

Posted on by Steve

A question I get on a regular basis is “How do you get those cool starbursts in some of your photos?”

People have speculated on everything from special filters to photoshop to alien intervention (OK, made that last one up) – but it’s way easier than that.

To get a starburst in your photo, you just need a DSLR and a couple steps:

1. Set your F/stop somewhere between F8 and F16. Generally the smaller the opening (f/16) the more dramatic the starburst. I personally start at around F/11 (aperture priority) and that seems to work pretty well for most of my starburst attempts.

Tech Note – Going much past F/11 or especially F/16 starts to introduce diffraction, softening your overall image, so keep that in mind as you stop down. I usually try to pick an F/stop that will give me a nice sunstar without digging too deep into the smaller apertures. Click here for a video I made about diffraction.

2. Get the sun against a hard surface. When the sun is right against a mountain, horizon, rock, or even a tree and and you’re set in that F/11-ish range, it should produce a nice starburst. No special gear or processing required :) The aperture of the lens itself produces the starburst. (NOTE – yes, I’ve seen images where the sun was not against a hard surface, but in my experience starbursts are easier to capture when you use the “hard surface” rule.)

So, what actually causes the starburst? 

The starburst is basically created when the light slices past the points on the lens aperture where the blades physically overlap. The more blades your lens apature has, the more points your starburst has.

Again, keep in mind that different lenses and even different focal lengths within the same zoom lens can produce different effects. At this point I’m pretty familiar with how my main lenses will respond when trying to produce a starburst, but that wasn’t always the case.

If you’re new to creating starbursts (which you probably are if you’re reading this :) ), then my advice is to quickly check the photos on the back of your camera as you shoot. Try different F/stops and focal length combos until you see a starburst you can be proud of! Each lens and focal length of a zoom can produce different results, so be sure to experiment.

Happy Shootin’

Oh, and as always, your comments and feedback is appreciated :)


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10 Responses to How To Get A Starburst In Your Photo

  1. justin says:

    Thanks STEVE great lesson.

  2. Charles Boerner says:

    Thanks for the starburst tip.

  3. Courtney Young says:

    Thanks for the starburst tip! I guess I’m a “newbie” when it comes to photography but this will definitely help.

  4. Pam says:

    Great tips on getting starbursts. Just love all your tips on photography.

  5. Vicki says:

    Awesome tip there Steve. Thanks for that :)

  6. Mark Herb says:

    Thank you for the tip sunsets are my favorite pictures to take.

  7. Rita Smith says:

    Hi Steve…I enjoy seeing your beautiful pictures so much! You have a very special talent! I was wondering if you have a tip for photographing mirrors? I’m an artist and have done a series of Dallas Skylines out of wood and applied lots of mirrors and crystals. I’m having a real problem getting good clear images to put online. Any suggestion would be appreciated!

  8. Dudley Chatham says:

    Great tip for Starburst. I’m OK with the f11-f16 settings, but how does direct sunlight affect the shutter speed so the rest of the landscape remains properly exposed ?

  9. Pat M says:

    Wow this was a great tip. thanks ever so much.

  10. Jason Preiss says:

    A few thing to note for getting good bursts.

    1. Lenses with flat leaf apertures provide much better bursts than curved leaf apertures (which may not produce any).

    2. Lenses with an even number of blades will give a burst with the same number of rays (i.e. a 6 blade aperture gives 6 pointed stars). A lens with an odd number of blades gives double they rays so a 7 bladed aperture will give a 14 pointed star.

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