Seeing Stars: How to Create Sunbursts

Photographing the drama of backlighting

by Kerry Drager

Sunset Sunburst (3)
Sunset Sunburst (3)
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
- Start with a bright, low-in-the-sky sun. Then, compose the scene so just a small piece of the sun peeks around a building, monument, tree, or other object.

- Use a small lens opening in order to get the effect - preferably, your lens's smallest aperture (highest f/stop number).

- For the strongest sunburst, remove ALL filters ... since it can cause extra lens flare or splotches of light in your picture.

Old Rocker Silhouette
Old Rocker Silhouette
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
- For the best results, use a wide-angle focal length - preferably a fixed wide-angle, although a wide-angle zoom can produce an excellent effect too!

- Like any silhouette shot, getting the right "look" can be tricky. You may need to use exposure compensation, although I generally take an alternate meter reading off a middle-toned part of the sky ... not the brightest area, not the darkest. Another possibility is to go with an overall averaging reading, as long as your meter is reading a fairly even mixture of both darks and brights.


Coastal Silhouette-Horiz.
Coastal Silhouette-Horiz.
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
- Caution: Be careful looking directly at the sun through your viewfinder ... not good for the eyes! Tip: I compose the photo with the sun totally blocked by the tree, tower, or whatever ... then, when things are just about perfect, I move the camera ever so gently so that some of the rays burst out from behind the object.

- If your camera has a Depth of Field Preview mode, activate it and actually see the sunburst effect before shooting!

Lastly ...
This is a technique that requires photographing and evaluating your results, and then repeating the process.

Good luck as you shoot for the stars!




About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.