image of sunburst effect over the horizon

Who doesn’t love to see a beautiful, sharp sunburst in a photo? It’s a compositional element that almost always draws wide-eyed reactions from viewers, and for good reason. The inclusion of the sun can be a very powerful element to add impact to your photos, especially when you have fun with it. But first, a few things to consider would be its placement within your frame and the capabilities of your lens.

In most cases, the examples of sunbursts in frames occur when the sun is just breaking the horizon at sunrise or sunset. The angle of the sun can play an important factor with regard to the quality of the sunburst, but sunrise and sunset aren’t the only options—you can get some cool sunbursts when the sun is still high in the sky. In those cases, you’ll likely need to incorporate a neutral density filter to drop your exposure sufficiently.

Often times during a sunrise or sunset shoot, after I’ve gotten my fill of photographing that event, I’ll begin a hunt for unique ways to include a sunburst in my frame. In my experience, the strongest and most pleasing results occur when I can place the sun against a high-contrast edge, like the horizon or through some trees. There are many ways to get creative with how you include a sunburst. As with many other aspects of photography, experimentation is key.

The other factor to consider is your lens, specifically the blades that form the diaphragm of the aperture. The quality of your sunburst will partially be determined based on the number of blades that your lens uses to form the aperture, as well as the build quality of those blades. There are tons of online articles that discuss which lenses are best suited to get a sunburst, but, again, I recommend you experiment for yourself. Just be sure not to use a wide-open aperture, like ƒ/2.8. You need to stop down to smaller apertures—I tend to hover between ƒ/13 and ƒ/16—to create the sunburst effect.

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