2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 34: Starbursts

This week’s challenge is to capture a starburst in your camera. Starbursts are also known as sun stars and sun flares. They are created by the diffraction of strong points of light, e.g. the sun, the full moon, street lights, candles, etc. Some people love starbursts in photos and some do not, so the goal of this challenge is to learn how to control them when you are out taking photos. Important: Protect your eyes – never look directly at the sun! I use Live View on my camera for any shots pointed into the sun.

Sunrise over Independence Monument “Sunrise over Independence Monument” by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

As I mentioned, starbursts are created by the diffraction, i.e. the bending of light waves, of strong points of light. It happens when a wave hits an obstacle or very small opening. In fact, the smaller the opening, the greater the diffraction. So think about the things we have control of when dialing in the exposure of a shot: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Which one of these has to do with the opening? The aperture, of course!

Backlit Leaves “Backlit Leaves” by Eric Minbiole

With a DSLR, we can control the amount of starburst with the aperture setting. The higher the f-stop number (i.e. the smaller the opening), the greater the starburst effect. I find that it usually starts appearing around f/16 (though it may appear with smaller f-stop numbers on long exposures).

Inner City Viaduct_session2a “Inner City Viaduct_session2a” by Stephanie Adams

In order for the starburst to show up best, it’s important that there be some contrast between the point of light and the surrounding scene. In my lead photo you can see the star rays appear much more pronounced against the landscape than the bright sky. In the nighttime photo below, pretty much the entire background was dark, so all of the starbursts appear symmetrical.

Behind the Bandstand
“Behind the Bandstand” by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

If you are using a point-and-shoot camera that doesn’t allow you to adjust the aperture (such as a phone), you’ll have to do a bit more experimentation but it should be possible to capture starbursts. Since you don’t have the option of adjusting the size of the opening, you’ll need to find an obstacle to diffract the light. In the experimenting I did with my phone, I found that something solid like a tree trunk, rock formation, building, statue, etc. worked well. The trick is to partially obscure the light with the subject so that part of it needs to “bend” around the object. When using this technique, the intensity of the starburst will vary among different cameras and looks a bit more diffuse than a starburst created with a DSLR.

phone-camera-example
Starburst taken with Samsung Galaxy S4

As always, don’t forget the fundamentals of photography when capturing your starburst photo this week. Think about composition, lighting and of course proper exposure. If your scene has high contrast (e.g. you are taking a photo into the sun), you may want to use HDR to capture detail in both the shadows and the highlights of your image. Don’t forget to use histograms to dial in the correct exposure. The only thing special about the histograms this week is that they will most likely show a (possibly small) spike on the right side since the brightest part of the starburst will be pure white without any detail.

Starburst photo histograms

For more information on how to capture starbursts, the following links are particularly helpful in explaining how and why the effect is created:

6 Tips to Create Compelling Star Effects, Sun Stars, Starbursts, or Sun Flares in Your Photographs

HOW TO CAPTURE STARBURSTS IN YOUR PHOTOS (includes video)

This week’s challenge:

  • Capture a starburst in camera by finding or creating a composition with strong point(s) of light.
  • Important: Protect your eyes if the sun is your light source! Never look directly at the sun – not even through the viewfinder on a DSLR. Compose your shot using Live View on the LCD of your camera.
  • Do not use an app (or other post-processing) to add a starburst effect.
  • Please post the histogram for your photo in the comments under your post.

Our friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Google+Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.
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