I am a big fan of having sunstars in my images.  A sunstar is that burst effect you see in many of my landscape shots where beams of light radiate out from the sun.  Often I am asked if I use Photoshop to achieve that effect.  Within the last couple of days I have been asked twice about the sunstars in my photos. 

I was even asked if I used Luminar on a recent photo.  It’s a valid question and might seem like I “photoshopped” the photo to get the effect.  Ever since Luminar introduced it’s Sunrays filter, photos will obviously fake sunstars and sunrays all over the internet.  If you’ve seen Luminar sunrays enough, they all begin to look the same after a while.  making them easy to spot.

But this effect is actually one of the easiest and coolest effects that can be achieved in camera with the correct settings.  Here is a little Landscape Photography 101 to help you get sunstars in your photos.

cave point county park, door county, wisconsin, winter, snow, sunstar, sunrays

Block the Sun

The first thing you need is the sun, obviously, and something to partially block it.  You get the best sunstars when the sun is just peaking out from behind a mountain, a cloud, trees, etc.  Check out the image below.  You can see the sun is being blocked by the cherry tree branches which is helping to create the effect.

The sun shines through cherry blossoms in Door County, Wisconsin.


Use a Small Aperture

Next you need to set your aperture to a small one.  I usually set to f/16-f/22 when I am trying to get a sunstar.  In the image below you can see the sun is being blocked by the clouds near the horizon.  This and my aperture of f/22 produced a nice sunstar.

An early June sunrise as viewed from Cave Point County Park in Door County, Wisconsin.


That’s All You Need To Know To Get Sunstars

That’s pretty much it.  A partially blocked sun and a small aperture is basically all you need to get this effect in your photos.  However, there are things you can do to increase the quality of your sunstars.  


There’s Actually More You Need To Know

The tips above are all you really need to know to get sunstars in your images.  However there are important points to remember to get better looking sunstars.


Lens Quality

Lenses have a lot to do with the quality of sunstars.  Every lens is different and will have different looking sunstars.  Higher quality (ie more expensive) lenses will generally produce better looking sunstars


Number of Aperture Blades

The number of aperture blades will affect the number of points on your sunstar.  If your lens has an even number of aperture blades, the number of points will equal the number of blades.  So 10 blades will create 10 points, 6 blades creates 6 points, and so on.  If your lens has an odd number of blades, the number of points will be double the number of blades.  9 blades will create 18 points, 7 blades will create 14 points, etc.


Lens Flare

Lenses will also produce flare that will show up in your images when shooting in to the sun.  Again, higher quality lenses handle flare a little better but it is an issue you can’t really get around in camera.  The trick here is to take your image with the sunstar as normal, then use your finger to block the sun in your frame.  Later you can load the two images in Photoshop and mask out the flares.

In the first image below, you can see the first image with the sunstar.  Look at the base of the trees and you will see the rainbow-like lens flare in the image.  I took the second image with my hand in the frame blocking the sun.  Notice how the flares are gone.  The third image shows the two together.  All I did was mask out the flare from the first image using the flare-less second image.



Initial image of the scene


My hand is blocking the sun.


Final Image


Protect Your Eyes!

Lastly, and probably most importantly, when shooting in to the sun do not look through your camera’s viewfinder or you can damage your eyes.  Use your camera’s live view instead.