Sun Stars – Photography Experiments

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Today we will cover sun stars. This experiment is simple and can be a lot of fun. First, tell me what the main difference is between these two photos of the Treasury at Petra in Jordan:

The answer is: the sun in the second shot has far more ‘rays’ coming out of it.

This is because I used different aperture settings between the two shots. In the first photo, the f-stop is f/10 and in the second photo the f-stop is f/22. When the aperture of a lens is closed down further, the light coming in around those aperture blades shapes differently when it comes from a strong source, like the sun (or light bulbs).

That’s not to say you don’t get any star effect when the aperture is open further, it is simply more pronounced the further you stop down the aperture. You can use this at night to great affect when there are multiple light sources.

In these two examples of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru, the first is shot at f/5.6 and the second at f/22.

Some stars in the lights. But we can do better.


Here’s the experiment you can run:

1) Set your camera to Aperture priority or Manual.

2) Jack up your aperture to the highest number it will accomplish.

3) Find yourself a light source. The sun works, but so do candles.

4) Frame your image (from this point forward, no excuse for boring composition!!).

5) Take a shot!


This technique can be a lot of fun but it can also become overused. The normal habit for most starting out in photography is to play around excessively with a new technique until they settle in. Eventually they don’t want to use it all the time. That’s normal, so go play!

Things To Consider:

  • Your shutter speed will slow down when using this technique. Keep that in mind if shooting at night (the second shot of Cusco was a 2 second exposure with the camera held against a column).
  • You might need to increase your ISO to compensate.
  • Play around with your exposure as metering can be freaked out by pointing your camera near the sun.
  • If there is dust on your sensor, a smaller aperture (higher number) will show it. Be prepared to clean things in the computer if this is the case.
  • Increasing Contrast and/or Clarity in your post processing software to make the rays of the light show more.

Questions?  Pop ’em like Pez in the comments section below. or email me at

Photography Basics – A 48 Day Adventure, and its companion 40 Photography Experiments, are series written by professional photographer Peter West Carey. The series are designed to unravel the mysteries of photography, helping you can take better pictures. Subscribe here to receive all the updates and bonus material. Your comments are always welcome.

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