Monday, October 18, 2010

Achieving the sunburst effect with digital camera

When I started with photography I used to wonder how photographers achieved the sunburst effect (also referred at many places as star burst effect). Off late I have been reading few articles for the techniques required to create such effect. The basic requirement for creating such effect would be a digital camera that allows you to have control over the aperture setting (also called f-stop). The theory says that when the lens is stopped down to a very small f-stop i.e larger f value like f/22, f/32 etc... a phenomenon called diffraction comes into picture. The reason for this is that the edges of the diaphragm blades in the lens tend to disperse the light. At larger apertures (f/5.6, f/8) this diffracted light is only a small percentage of the total amount of light hitting the sensor or film, but as the aperture is stopped down the amount of diffracted light becomes a larger percentage of the total amount of light being recorded. From photographic point of view the diffraction causes loss of sharpness, but can also be used for creative purpose like creating sun bursts.

Having equipped myself with the theoretical knowledge, it was now time to implement it practically. These days I am unable to take time to visit photographic locations so tried all the shots around my house.

Specifically for sun bursts I typically use a f-stop like f/22 and a wide angle lens. The wider the lens more easier it is to get the effect. I have never tried to create sun bursts with a longer focal length as I am afraid of damaging my camera sensor and my eye :)

Here are few shots that came out my experimentation.

Lens: Nikkor 18-55mm@18mm, f/22, 1/100sec, Manual, Handheld
Lens: Nikkor 18-55mm@18mm, f/22, 1/200sec, Manual,Tripod. Manually blended 2 exposure in CS5
18-55mm@18mm f/22, 1/20sec, Manual, Took 2 exposures and manually blended them in CS5
18-55mm@18mm f/22, 1/13sec, Manual, Tripod. Manually blended 2 exposures in CS5
18-55mm@18mm, f/5.6, 1/100sec

As you might have noticed from the exif info that all the shots were taken at a focal length of 18mm and most of the time at f/22. In my opinion the best shooting times for sun burst on a sunny day are in the morning and the evening due to less intense light, warmer tones, and longer shadows.

Also positioning the sun slightly behind another object such as a tree branch, a mountain peak, a building or a cloud and partially hiding the sun may enhance the details of your sunburst.

Many times you may want to take multiple exposures of a shot if you want to preserve both the highlights and the dark areas. Since the light source is directly included in the frame there is good amount of chance that the entire range of the light is too high to be recorded on camera sensor.

I feel that this creative effect really adds a strong compositional element to a frame and if used creatively can produce wonderful images.


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