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Creating a star-burst effect by day or by night

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Night photography provides lots of opportunity for creative fun, and this is particularly true in Paris. After all, it it called the 'City of Light' for a reason! All these lights give us a chance to play with various effects, one of which is the creation of star-bursts coming off points of light. This effect is very simple and can easily be achieved without using a filter or running to a photo editing tool.

Technically speaking, it is the light diffraction over the aperture boundaries that creates the effect. The smaller the opening (i.e., larger the aperture), the more pronounced the effect. But that's techie talk. How do you get the effect? Here are 4 easy steps:

  1. Set the camera on a tripod and hook the cable release as you would for long exposures. If you don't have a cable or a remote, use the self timer setting so you don't touch the camera while it is taking the picture;
  2. Set the f-stop to a high number (i.e., a small opening) such as f16 or f18;
  3. Adjust the shutter speed according to the light metering requirements. For night photography, I usually underexpose slightly;
  4. Press the button!

Voilà. The various points of light should be turned into star-burst, as in the photo below of the fountains at the Concorde square. It is that simple!

The same effect can be achieved in daylight to turn the sun into a star-burst. The second photo below, taken at Vimy Ridge in France, shows the daytime effect. The technique is very much the same except that you will not usually need a tripod. Again, here are a few easy steps:

  1. Catch the sun when it is low in intensity, such as in early morning or late afternoon;
  2. Conceal about 2/3 of the sun behind a tree, a rock or a building;
  3. Set the aperture at f16 or f18;
  4. Adjust the shutter speed according to light metering requirements;
  5. Press the button and you have your daytime star-burst.

Be extremely cautious when looking at the sun through your viewfinder to avoid permanent damage to your eyes. I usually keep my sun glasses on when I look and I do not look directly at the sun to compose my image. I will only take a few images and move on to minimize the risk of eye injury.

Do you have some great star-burst pictures? Share them with us by linking to them in the comment field below!

About the Author

Sophie Pasquet

Sophie Pasquet

Sophie has been a photographer, educator and traveller for most of her adult life. She founded Better Paris Photos in 2008 (which became Better Travel Photos in 2014) to deliver exceptional photography experiences to travellers. Learn more...

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