How to create a starburst in your photos

How to create a starburst in your photos

Zach Rohe Photography

Wedding, Portrait, & Landscape Photography in Sedona & Beyond

How to create a starburst in your photos

Loreto, MX – Sony 16-35 GM @16mm f/16

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What is a starburst?

Basically a refraction of light through the aperture of your lens. Sound too scientific? Basically it’s an effect professional photographers use to create a star from a bright light like the sun. Some of my most popular photos feature starbursts, sunstars, or whatever you want to call them! I like using them as a way to make a simple photo look unique and a great photo to be a wall worthy print, like the photo above!

palm tree starburst
mulege church starburst palm tree

Why would I want to create a starburst?

To show off your skills and make a boring photo look amazing. In the photos below, the subject matter isn’t very interesting. But just by adding that little sunstar, the photos take on a whole new life. Add on to the fact that it’s super easy and gives your photos a professional look, the question is why wouldn’t you want to try to recreate this effect!

How do I create one?

It’s actually very simple, you start with a bright light piercing it’s way through something… in the above examples it’s part of a tree. But it can also be through clouds or through rock. By partially obstructing the light, you are increasing refraction and contrast which are essential for these shots. If you don’t have something to block part of the light, your photos will often turn out like the one below…

muted starburst beach

San Felipe, MX – Sony 16-35 GM @ 24mm f/18

The aperture or f/stop of your camera’s settings often dictates how the starburst looks as well. I can often get starbursts with an aperture of f/9 or above but f/16 seems to be the sweet spot. Shutter speed and ISO are irrelevant, but the camera needs to stay still so I use a tripod with shutter speeds below 1/10 of a second. Here are some other tips:

  • It helps if the sun is lower in the sky or along the horizon for maximum effect.
  • Different lenses capture starbursts more easily and differently. Using UV or other filters may diminish your starbursts.
  • It is difficult to create this effect in video without a lot of light due to the high shutter speeds needed for non blurry video.
  • Be patient and get a few shots, see which one you like the best.
many starbursts at night

LaPaz, MX – Sony 70-200 GM2 @122mm f/16

night starburst up close

LaPaz, MX – Sony 70-200 GM2 @122mm f/16

The above examples were taken at night by a different lens and from a distance. While the shape and size of the starburst is different, the concepts of capturing this effect are all the same: small aperature in camera and high contrast or blocking of the light source.

Visit my galleries for prints and wall art with starbursts

cathedral rock monsoon starburst

Sedona, AZ – Sony 16-35 GM @16mm f/11

What is the science behind this visual phenomena?

You made it this far and you want to learn more? Here are the basics. Light is refracted creating points of light inside the lens which is then transmitted to your sensor in these lines of light. If you have a circular aperture, there are no lines created and thus no starburst. Also, if you have a lens with an even number of aperture blades you get half the lines in your starburst than a lens with odd numbered blades. Personally, I like lenses with both but most of my lenses feature an odd number of blades as you can see above. You can often find reviews on different lenses that will discuss their starburst quality. I used to have the Zeiss Sony 16-35mm lens and it had a very distinct starburst as you can see below.

yosemite valley starburst

Yosemite, CA – Sony 16-35 Zeiss @16mm f/16

Can I create a starburst with my phone?

I can’t on my phone, but the technology will probably be there in the future. As of now, most phones use circular apertures that are not adjustable, which makes it impossible. I have heard of people using apps to adjust their aperture and some use the “night mode” to get the effect, but as of right now, you are better off using a DSLR with an adjustable lens.

Thanks so much for reading and feel free to comment below any questions you might have and let me know any tips you have for starburst photos!

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How to capture great concert photos

How to capture great concert photos

Zach Rohe Photography

Wedding, Portrait, & Landscape Photography in Sedona & Beyond

How to capture great concert photos

How to get started with Concert Photography

I was lucky when I arrived in Boulder, CO that I quickly met a couple of amazing local musicians and they gave me the opportunity to shoot my first concerts. I had plenty of experience shooting in low light situations from time doing street photography in Baltimore. And my Sony A7 series cameras are some of the best in low light situations.

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While initially the learning curve was steep, after a few shows I began to figure it out! You have to match a quick shutter speed to capture the action but still allow enough light to get a decent picture. I found certain colors didn’t translate well to my photos, especially green and red looked really weird in photos.

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Speaking of green… one of the advantages to shooting for a band was being able to go to the “green room”. These are the backstage party rooms where the band “get’s ready” for the performance. Needless to say, I can’t share any of those photos to protect all parties involved!

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In addition to going backstage and having full access to the venue, the band would provide me with free drinks and a couple bucks for my edited photos. It was a lot of fun and I’m so thankful to have full access to classic venues like the Boulder Theatre, The Fox, and Cervantes Masterpiece Theatre.

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I’m always looking for new chances to shoot concerts and events! I have the experience and gear to capture your moments, shoot me an email if you’d like to work together or have a creative idea!

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Understand Shutter Speed on a Camera

Understand Shutter Speed on a Camera

Zach Rohe Photography

Wedding, Portrait, & Landscape Photography in Sedona & Beyond

Understand Shutter Speed on a Camera

Why should you understand shutter speed?

Shutter speed is one of the most important keys to taking a good picture and also being creative with different styles of photography. I’m going to explain shutter speed simply and effectively so you can use it and change it with confidence.  If you’re looking for a basic understanding of a camera, check out these photography basics by Ed Major.

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1/2000 f/5.6 250 iso

The Science of Shutter Speed

The shutter is what controls how much light reaches the sensor or film in a camera. The speed refers to the amount of time the shutter is open to let light in and create the photo. The longer the shutter is open, the more light comes in, but movement can be blurred as well. A shorter shutter speed captures the precise moment and shows no movement but doesn’t allow much light to reach the camera and may turn out dark. Your camera also vibrates slightly when you hold it so a longer shutter speed may be blurry unless you use a tripod or stabilize the camera. Some cameras have built in stabilizers to allow longer shutter speeds that aren’t affected by camera vibrations. Now I’ll break down shutter speeds into three categories:

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1/13 second f/16 100 iso

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1/2000 second f/2.8 100 iso

Quick Shutter Speeds: 1/8000-1/300 second

This is when the shutter is open for just a fraction of a second, not allowing much light to the sensor. In bright situations, this is fine. It also helps when you have better lenses with a lower f/stop to allow more light in to the sensor as well. In darker situations, not enough light will be there to create a picture and the photo will be dark. In all situations, these shutter speeds will capture the precise moment in time: all the drops on the waves or a quick moving object with no blur. The quicker the shutter speeds, the more action will be frozen and quick moving objects can be captured. Quick shutter speeds like these are not affected by camera shake at all.


1/320 second f/2.8 100 iso

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1/320 second f/2.8 100 iso with exposure added in editing

Medium Shutter Speeds: 1/300-1/10 second

This is the middle ground of shutter speeds for most cameras and generally the most popular for taking general pictures. With modern cameras, these shutter speeds are affected by camera shake very minimally if at all. They usually allow enough light in for most picture taking, in most conditions. These speeds will capture all but the quickest moving objects in a picture. But on a bright day, even 1/300th of a second will allow too much light to the sensor and make the whole picture white. And a person riding a bike will be blurry if your shutter speed is 1/10th of a second.

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1/60 f/4.0 5000 iso


1/10 second f/8.0 100 iso

Long Shutter Speeds: 1/5-30 seconds or longer

For night photography and a lot of the artistic light painting photography, a long shutter speed and a tripod are essential. This is where a lot of the “art” of photography comes from. A lot of light will be allowed to get to the sensor but a lot of motion will be shown as well. On a 20 second exposure on a dark night, you will capture many of the stars in the sky, but if you look closely you will even see some of the motion from the earth’s rotation! An object moving while a 1/5 second picture is taken will appear blurry but some do like this effect as it shows motion.

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20 seconds f/2.8 6400 iso

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What is Panning?

Panning is capturing a moving object while the camera is moving at the same speed. This allows the object to be captured very precisely, as if a very fast shutter speed was used, but the background will be blurry from the motion. This technique is an art in itself and one that I have not yet mastered. It involves experimentation with different shutter speeds for different situations but I usually start around 1/60. Mark Galer is a master of this technique and you can watch a video about it here.

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1/320 second f/1.8 100 iso
Would have been better if I moved the camera faster with a faster shutter speed.

Putting it all together

There are a lot more details to shutter speed than I could address in this space, but these are the basics. When the shutter is open longer it allows more light, but also blurs if moving. A quick shutter speed captures the action but doesn’t allow much light to the sensor. A tripod helps stabilize the camera for longer shutter speeds, but also realize that if something is moving in the frame it will still be blurry.

Shutter speed is one of the three major factors that will determine how your picture looks, the other two are aperture (f/stop) and ISO which I will discuss in future entries and then put them all together at the end. Let me know what questions you may have and I’ll be happy to answer them and add information as needed.

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