Add sunburst effects to your street photography in camera - the easy way.

I love to shoot into the sun when doing street photography.   Stopping down the aperture and going for some flare or sunburst can add a nice effect to your street shots and it is something that can make a normal street shot really stand out. So what is involved?


A word of caution

It is important so say up front you should be careful with this technique - don’t point your camera and lens directly into the full sun in the middle of the day - you could damage your camera or worse still your eyes.  Make sure your lens is stopped down to its smallest aperture - this not only protects your camera and your eyes but is actually required to produce this effect. In fact, you need to be able to obscure the sun enough that only part of the brightness is entering your lens.  OK with that caution in mind, read on.

With that caution in mind, read on...

You need to start with camera set at or close to its smallest aperture so that the aperture blades closed in create the star effect. Then, looking at your scene, make sure that the sun is fully obscured by an object and gradually let the sun peak out - you only need a tiny amount of sun.  This is because too much light coming directly in to the lens just wont make this effect work. You can use anything on the street to obscure the sun and this is where the creative and compositional elements of this technique can really kick in.  I have used trees, peoples heads and of course buildings to achieve this effect.


Note that the sun can be behind clouds but it is a bit trickier to get right compared with clear sky.  I recommend trying this in afternoon or morning sun also, as the angle is great for obscuring and its not too bright. 

Look Down, not up.

A great trick to get in the ballpark with this effect is to actually look down instead of up. Look for the shadows on the ground of what you are obscuring the sun with, and position yourself at the transition point between the shadow and the bright area. This will get you close to the point where you can have the sun just peeking out from the object, creating that starburst effect from the aperture blades in your lens.


As you look through the viewfinder try and find the balance between a good exposure for your image, a good sunburst in the image and not washing out the image entirely because you have not obscured the sun enough.  Again, don’t let the full sun come through your lens - be careful.  This is where an EVF in a mirrorless camera really shines because you can see all these variables in real time before you press the shutter button.

As the camera needs to be set at or close to its smallest aperture you need to balance the other elements of the exposure triangle to get the exposure and dynamic range you want. I tend to like this effect in black and white with underexposure but it can work with an even exposure as well and even in colour. Overexposing the scene generally doesn’t work because it washes out the star points.

Once you have the basic technique down and you are able to create starbursts, then next trick is to find an interesting street scene to complement the effect and that is where the fun really begins.

I really like this effect for creating a epic or surreal and ethereal look to my images.  Give it a try yourself and let me know how you go!