Candid Child Photographer Nashville.

I’m so excited to be finally writing about this topic. Near and dear to my heart: SUNFLARE!!!  I love it and may be a bit obsessed.  It’s actually pretty simple once you get the hang of it, so here are some tricks, tips and things I’ve learned along the way!

The first step is understanding aperture.  Sunflare is the diffraction of light on your lens.  If that light passes through a small opening, ie with a very small aperture, the aperture blades create a STARBURST effect.  Like in this example, shot at f/16:

20mm, f/16

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If you have a large aperture opening, say at f/2, more of the sun reaches your lens and you get a more diffuse, hazy look of sunflare, with NO STARBURST.  Like this:

85mm, f/2.5

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So if your goal is to get a nice sharp sunburst, you’ll need to stop down as much as you can.  On my lenses, that’s usually f/16 and that’s usually plenty narrow.  

Some examples at different apertures:

20mm, f/3.2

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20mm, f/5

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20mm, f/8

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20mm, f/10

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The second step is understanding focal length.  As mentioned above, if the light passes through a small opening/aperture, you get a starburst effect. The smaller your focal length, the smaller your aperture, and thus more of a starburst.  So in theory, shooting at the same aperture, say f/16 with a 20mm will give you a much larger more pronounced starburst than with an 85mm at f/16.

Here are two examples of shooting at f/16 with 2 different lenses. Notice the 20mm has much sharper, more define rays than the 50mm.

20mm, f/16

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50mm, f/16

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And here is an example of an 85mm at 2.5.  Note the hazy effect.  There are no distinct rays.

85mm, f/2.5

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An important tip: bouncing the sun off of something, a building, a person, an object will enhance the sun rays and give you a more sharp burst.  I almost always try to bounce the sun of of a treelike or a person to get a larger flare. This just takes practice and moving around.  My subjects are sometimes annoyed with me because I tell them to “freeze” and I dance around until the sun bounces off their body just right 🙂

For example here, it is bouncing off this dirt mound:

20mm, f/8

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Or here, it is bouncing off my daughter:

20mm, f/6.3

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You do not HAVE to bounce the sun off of something, though.  I’ve found it enhances the flare, but here is an example with a 35mm at f16 shooting straight into the sun.  This is just an SOOC, but even high in the sky, you can get a pretty sharp flare.

35mm, f/16

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And the wild card is understanding the number of aperture blades on your lens.  This will determine the number of rays from each starburst, and also the shape of your burst. You’ll notice some bursts have rays that appear to “split” into double or triple – this is related to your blades.  And as with everything in life, there seems to be a bit of mystery involved in the size, shape and look of my starbursts.  As a scientist, I know there’s a scientific explanation, but for the most part, trial and error and being in the right light with the right knowledge is all you need!  Good luck and have fun!

Erica of Erica Eldridge Photography is a newborn, maternity, child and family photographer in Nashville, Tennessee, and its surrounding areas including Brentwood, Franklin, Hendersonville, Murfreesboro and Spring Hill.