with Courtney Slazinik
Easy Steps to Create a Starburst Photography Effect Day or Night
Lifestyle, Light
Easy Steps to Create a Starburst Photography Effect Day or Night

The sun rays are such a powerful and beautiful thing to capture. They show up through a lens way better and safer than our own eyes. Capturing starburst photography is a fun way to photograph those rays. This is not just created using the sun but any kind of light! I promise it is easier than it looks and you can do it, let me show you how!

What is a starburst effect in photography?

The starburst photography effect is when you are able to capture the individual light rays in a shot. It usually end up looking like a star, hence the name. This can be done using the sun or any kind of light. This is technically a light diffraction. Or a bend in the light source.

Many landscape photographers use this handy skill to enhance their photos. It can take a normally dull photo and elevate it and bring in more detail. It’s just another way to showcase how beautiful our world is!

Image of a brown building with the sun peeking around the corner creating a starburst photography effect.

Read more: Elevate Landscape Photography with Light

What are the starburst photography settings?

Set your aperture as high as it can go

I would recommend starting at f16. This will allow you to really get a large starburst. The higher the number, the bigger the starburst and more rays you will catch.

You can get the effect if your f-stop is open wider it just doesn’t have the same big starburst lines.

Recommended setting with a tripod

Slow down your shutter speed

To create the starburst effect, your camera needs to be able to pick up the light source. So after you set your aperture, go to shutter speed and adjust accordingly. This will get you a big and tack sharp sunburst.

Read more: How to take Unique Photos that WOW Using Slow Shutter Speed

Keep your ISO low

You may be working with low light when trying to capture starburst photography. To minimize the noise in your photo, try to properly expose without adding too much ISO. Unless your camera is capable of working in low light and using ISO without the grain then go ahead!

Recommended setting without a tripod

If you don’t have a tripod, you can definitely still capture the starburst effect.

Shutter speed

Without a tripod you are going to want to keep you shutter speed no faster than 1/125. First try to steady your hand and body on something stable to help avoid camera shake.

Raise your ISO

Since your shutter speed is going to have to be faster to avoid any blur from your hands, you are going to have to compensate for that light using your ISO. Also your aperture being so high, you will need the help from ISO to properly expose your photo.

How to make a starburst in a photograph

Partially block the sun with another object.

If you are shooting during the day you are most likely going to be using the sun to create the starburst effect. To be able to get the rays, you will need to find something to partially block the sun. Look for a fence, a tree, or a person. Anything will work just place the sun behind the subject just a little bit.

Read more: 7 Creative Ways to Use Outdoor Light

A bell partially blocking the sunny of a blue sky day with clouds in the sky creating a starburst photograph.

ISO 160, f18, ss 1/160

Cover your lens with your hand

Use your hand to shield the light (like you shield your eyes from the sun) that is pouring into your lens. Set your focus on the object or the foreground.

Then adjust your settings. Once you have your settings set then you can move your hand and let the light pour in. Don’t worry if your light meter goes a little crazy once you move your hand, just take your shot and watch the starburst effect appear!

ISO 320, f14, ss 1/80
Read more: Everything You Need to Know for Unique Lens Flare Photos

Don’t point your camera directly at the sun

Yes we need to place the sun behind the subject, but make sure not to point your lens directly at the sun. This could cause damage to your lens and to your eye. Use the tip above and place another object in front of the light, this will allow you to protect your gear and eyes.

Read more: Master Backlighting Photography in 8 Simple Steps

A sunset silhouette of a man holding out his hand to hold the sun that is in a starburst effect.

ISO 500, f32, ss 1/100

Use a tripod for starburst photography

If shooting at night be sure to use a tripod since your shutter speed will be slower in order to get your photo properly exposed. Or if you are like me and take your tripod to Tokyo Disneyland only to be told you aren’t allowed to use it, you can set your bag on some bushes as a make shift tripod.

The Disney castle lit up at night.

ISO 250, f32, ss 25.0
Read more: 5 Must Try Backlighting Techniques

Experiment with starburst photography

One of the best ways to really learn this style is to practice. Pick a time day or night and focus on that for a week. Look for different subjects to block the light during the day. At night try to recreate an ambiance at your favorite outdoor restaurant or backyard patio.

Read more: 5 Reasons to Embrace Low Light Photography

A lit up sign at night showing multiple starburst effects.

ISO 320, f22, ss 0.5

One thing you could do is set up your tripod on one subject and take the same exact shot but adjust your f/ number to see how it changes the starburst.

Read more about fun ways to use light:

How to Master Low light Photography
Secret to backlighting
Finding light in unexpected places

  • November 22, 2010 at 11:26 AM

    What an awesome tip – I definitely need to try this!

    • November 22, 2010 at 7:55 PM

      Thanks! Hope you will share your results :O)

  • November 22, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    Courtney I could spend hours reading your blog (sadly I have to get dressed for work). There is so much great info. Thank you.

    I’m going to play with your starburst effect tips this week. Hopefully I’ll capture something that is share worthy :)

    • November 22, 2010 at 7:56 PM

      Oh, thanks Jill!! Darn work getting in the way :O) he he Good luck getting a starburst effect! Can’t wait to see what you get :O)

  • November 22, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    These are gorgeous. Thanks for the tips!

  • November 23, 2010 at 3:34 AM

    Awesome tips :)

  • November 23, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Oooh, this looks fun! Sorry for my recent absence. I think you know all that’s been going on with us, but hopefully this week will calm down a little!

    • November 23, 2010 at 10:05 AM

      I hope it does calm down for y’all! Let us know if you need anything!

  • Emily
    November 25, 2010 at 9:55 PM

    I’ve always wondered how to do this. Thanks for the tips.

  • August 12, 2011 at 5:27 PM

    I’m just now reading this ;) Its almost a year ago, I love the night time tips!! Thanks!

  • August 26, 2012 at 6:13 PM

    Love the tips! I actually just figured this out on my own a few months ago, but this is a great refresher! (And I love the story about Tokyo Disneyland! haha.)

  • Carmela
    September 1, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    I tried this technique on Thursday night and I liked the result so much I entered it in your August contest… my first contest ever.

    • Courtney
      September 9, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      Yay! I’m glad you tried this and entered your photo!!!

  • Brenda Cooke
    January 25, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    I love reading your tips and instructions. You make things so clear and simple and I appreciate that you also show the camera setting. I have learned so much from you in the short time I’ve been following you. Thank you for all your help, ideas, creativity and love of photography!

  • Rachel
    January 26, 2014 at 2:14 AM

    I love your posts. They are so helpful and you are so kind to spend the time to share your knowledge x

  • Jake
    January 26, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    Hi Courtney,

    That was a really useful tip. Thank you! I’m definitely going to experiment and play around with it.
    Just my 2cents regarding pointing a camera towards a bright (sun)light source – just as much as it can damage the Retina of the eye, it can burn out the photo-sensors, causing color-shift or even dark pixels. The lens itself merely conducts the light, and won’t be affected.

  • Emma
    January 27, 2014 at 9:24 AM

    love your site and all of your min-lessons!

    Also, LOVE seeing Oki in your photos! We’re stationed there right now :)

  • January 28, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    Great tips! What lens do you typically use to do this?

  • Sayan paul
    October 15, 2017 at 10:16 PM

    I am using f29, iso 100, in aperture priority mode… With spot metering, and exposure compensation at -2.0.. Still the result is not satisfactory… what settings should i try? And what is going wrong in here?

    With lower f, the camera is showing ‘too much bright’.. Pls help

    • Courtney Slazinik
      October 29, 2017 at 8:49 PM

      I would put your exposure compensation at 0. That should help.

  • Lin
    February 9, 2019 at 6:50 PM

    Thanks for all the info. I’m looking forward to the web class

  • Olivier
    November 27, 2020 at 3:45 PM

    Thanks for the tips! Do you use an UV filter? I know many photographers don’t use one with DSLR, so I was wondering.

    • Courtney Slazinik
      December 17, 2020 at 7:19 PM

      No, I don’t use UV filters but I know other photographers who love them.

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