Learn how to get sun stars, sun streaks, or starbursts while filming towards direct sunlight using this video tutorial.
Sun stars, sun streaks, or starbursts is the name given to the visual attribute of the long, golden streaks produced by sunlight. The video below provides awesome tips on how to get them while filming towards direct sunlight.
What Are Sun Stars?
They are often found within landscape shots when the photographer photographs during the early morning or evening. Additionally, you’ll find them used in cinema, especially for sweeping landscape vistas.
A sun star from a frosted winter sunrise. Image via Sara Winter.
Say you’re out filming, and you have a nice landscape composition lined up, and it’s golden hour, but something doesn’t feel right, or it feels like you’re missing something that gives your composition the wow factor. Without any additional components, a few sun streaks can visually give the image a more cinematic feeling. As seen in the video tutorial, just a simple shot of an actor walking up a coastal path became a lot more cinematic with sun stars.
How to Get Sun Stars
So, how do we get them? Well, I know that we often associate cinematic imagery with a shallow depth of field. But, to produce sun stars, we need to ditch the wide aperture and, instead, use a narrow aperture from f/11 all the way to f/22.
This is because the star streaks are caused by light passing through a small aperture and diffracted across the aperture blades in the lens. When you’re using a narrow aperture, let’s just say from f/10 onward, the aperture or the opening is less curved, giving you a more defined edge along with the blades, resulting in a more defined starburst.
Take a look at the images below. Each shot was filmed at the same time, in the same position, but each image was filmed using a different aperture.
At f/11, the sun star is well-defined when it comes into view.At f/4, the streaks are just noticeable.At f/2.8, they hardly exist.
Therefore, it’s pivotal to use a narrow aperture when trying to obtain sun stars. Of course, this will drastically decrease your exposure. However, when you acknowledge that you’ll only really be filming for sun stars in exterior locations, when the sun is in direct view, this becomes less of an issue.
Hide the Sun’s Ever So Slight Edges
Setting the aperture beyond f/10 is just one component. The second is having the sun hit the edge of something. This could be a building, tree branches, or even a person’s shoulder. While in practice you could set your aperture to f/16, aim towards the sky, and get some form of visible sun star, the best results come from when the sun is just slightly hidden by something. This is because the star is caused when the sun hits an object, and the light is dispersed from its natural direction, then mixed with the defined edges of the aperture. That, combined with the contrast of the foreground object, will produce a better-looking sun star.
As noticed in various landscape photographs that capture streaks, the sun is ever so slightly behind something. In the case of the photograph below, it’s the horizon.
The sun setting in the mountains, obstructed slightly by the tree. Image via Petr Kahanek.
I often find, and as seen in the video, some of the better results come from when you move in and out of position to bring the streaks alive.
Watch out for Clouds
Additionally, to get the best results, you don’t want any ambient diffusion from clouds. Even if it’s a blue-sky day and cloud cover is minimal, just the softest cloud will spoil the effect. You really need direct sunlight to get the best streaks.
If you’ve enjoyed our quick-tip tutorial, be sure to comment on the video and let us know you want more.
For more cinematography tips, check out the articles below:
Low-Budget Tips for Filming Against Blank White WallsVideo Tutorial: Three Tips for Salvaging Overexposed VideoTips for Low-Budget Filming in the RainIconic Cinematography: Our 5 Favorite Shots from Emmanuel LubezkiVideo Tutorial: Three Tips for Salvaging Overexposed Video
Top image via Petr Kahanek.
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