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  • Writer's pictureRubber Monkey

Sunburst Photography: Our Top Tips And Tricks 

Do you want to create a striking look for your landscape images or outdoor photos? Let us introduce you to sunburst photography. In this article, we want to arm you with tips and tricks on how to master sunbursts. 

Shoot In Manual Mode

If you are trying to achieve a sunburst in a photo, it’s best to take control of your camera. Make sure you either use Aperture Priority or Manual mode. Once selected, ensure you adopt the following settings and tools.

Change Your Aperture

Your lens will have a variable aperture which can be controlled via the dials on your camera. Aperture is measured in f-stops which either increase or decrease the amount of light entering the lens. To create a sunburst, all you need is a single light source like the sun. You should be careful when looking through the viewfinder directly at the sun, as you can cause eye damage. So instead, use the Live View mode on the LCD screen to view the composition.

Once you have found your composition, dial the aperture to a small hole which is actually a large f-stop number on your camera. We recommend either f11 or f16 for the best results. The aperture blades combined with the optics in your lens will catch the light causing long streaks to appear around the light source.

Use Exposure Bracketing To Increase Your Foreground Lighting

When using your aperture at f11 or f16, you won’t be letting in a massive amount of light. We, therefore, would encourage you to increase your ISO, or better still, bracket your exposure. Make sure your camera is on a tripod to ensure all the photos are consistent in the bracketing. By pressing the button once in this mode, the camera captures three or more photos (depending on your camera model). Each photo is taken at a lower and higher exposure. Tools such as the Miops MOBILE Remote Plus will allow you to wirelessly control the camera to automate the capture process. 

Once you have all your photos, you can import them in Photoshop to mask them together and increase your foreground exposure. If you aren’t experienced with Photoshop, there is an easy way to get the best out of your bracketed photos; it’s called Auto Blend.

Meter For Highlights

If you don’t want to bracket your exposure (to avoid a High Dynamic Range Look), you can instead expose for the highlights. In this case, this would be the light source. By doing so, you will create more of a dramatic lighting effect. Landscape photographers use this technique when silhouetting a tree or another object in front of the sun.

To correctly meter for your highlights, we recommend you use a spot metering mode. Spot metering enables you to move the centre of the frame over the subject and only expose for a smaller area disregarding the outer area of the frame.

A wide-angle lens is the best option to capture a broad field of view in the first instance. With a wide-angle lens, you’ll capture a significant view of foreground, middle-ground and background elements, including the sky. Wide-angle lenses are especially preferred for capturing sunbursts in landscape shots. A wide-angle lens is also prone to pull in more light, given its lens construction. 

With the sun partially blocked behind a background element such as a boulder or tree, the wide lens captures the sunburst easily. As a result, a wide-angle lens will result in more rays or points of light in your sunburst images. However, we are big believers in shooting with what you have at the time. Test out sunbursts with every single lens you own to determine which is the best tool for the job. 

If you are after a wide-angle lens on a budget, we recommend the Samyang 24mm for Sony, Nikon and Canon but if you have a bit more money to spend, we recommend the 24mm Sigma Art Lenses for Sony, Nikon and Canon.

Use a Specialist Filter

Tiffen offers a range of special effect filters designed to give a sunburst effect from a single light source. The filters come in a range of sizes including, 49mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm and 77mm. To find the right filter for your lens, check on the front element, and you should see some text that mentions the diameter of the front element. Once known, purchase the correct size and then screw the filter onto the front of the lens.

To get the best elliptically-shaped sunburst results from one of these filters, we recommend you minimise your aperture to f11 or f16. 

Position The Sun Behind an Object

While there are special filters that will create a sunburst in almost any situation, there’s a simpler method still. With a wide-angle lens and a narrow aperture, you can create sunbursts with the help of landmarks. When the sun peeks out from behind a tall building, tree or mountain range, your lens will capture sunbursts. 

By aligning yourself with the sun partially behind a distant subject, you are sure to capture sunbursts every time. With the sun positioned behind a subject, the amount of light hitting your lens is significantly reduced. It allows the sensor to capture the remaining direct light without blowing out the exposure. It’s also worth taking small steps left and right to view the changes in the sunburst’s clarity. 

Consider the Weather

A simple fact of photography is that we always need to check the weather conditions and forecast before stepping out the front door. Not only does the weather dictate our choice of protective clothing, but it changes our approach to different genres. Sunburst photography isn’t going to work on an overcast day. For effective sunbursts, you’ll need to have the sun visible and unobstructed by cloud cover. 

Much like positioning the sun behind a solid object, it is possible to achieve a sunburst when the sun peeks out from behind a dense cloud. It won’t work with wispy clouds as too much light still passes through. Another interesting weather impact on sunbursts is Golden Hour. During Golden Hour, the sun’s low angle illuminates the airborne particles to create a golden glow. Sunbursts shot during golden hour are especially beautiful as the rays are more radiant.

Final Thoughts

Sunburst photography isn’t appropriate in every situation or genre. However, if you’re shooting landscapes and want to add an extra dimension to the image, you can’t go wrong with a sunburst. The best bit about sunburst shots is that you don’t need to rush out and buy a specialist, single-purpose piece of kit. 

While a range of filters and even specialty lenses are available, it’s always best to work with what you have first. It will make you a better photographer and prove how you can achieve so much more with less. Regardless, we have a comprehensive range of wide-angle lenses, filters and cameras suited to sunburst photography. Head in-store or online now to grab your essential sunburst kit.


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