A Sunstar Image Workflow

Some call it sunstar and some call it sunburst. But do you like capturing one? Yes? Then this is for you!

Personally, I really love shooting sunstars! I believe it adds that "pop" to the image. Plus, from patiently waiting for the sun to peak from an edge, capturing and seeing it on my camera's lcd is so so rewarding!

Photo below is from Rialto Beach, Washington. Waited for the sun to hit the rocks to produce a sunstar effect.

There’s a technique for you to easily nail one, you may follow these steps below::

1. Get rid of those filters and make sure that the front lens is free from dust! Tiny dust and scratches are the main cause of those hard to remove flares!

2. Set your camera to Manual mode.

3. For a sharper and more distinct hands of the sunstar, shift your aperture to F20 - f22.

3. Make sure to hide part of the sun on any edge then opt for 1-2 secs shutter exposure.

4. Compensate on your ISO to achieve a balanced exposure.

That’s it, easy right? Assuming that you've followed those steps, your image would probably look like this:

The headache with shooting directly to the sun is that our cameras can't handle the scene's dynamic range. Either you get a properly exposed foreground with an over exposed sun OR a properly exposed sun with an overly-under-exposed foreground. Then you'll end up trying to bring back details from the clipped highlights, which is impossible OR opening up the dark and shadowy areas thus sacrificing the image's quality.

Best solution? Take it to the next level by exposing multiple shots then combining them in processing. This is to achieve a clean, crisp and properly exposed image with that awesome sunstar.

Below is my work flow for capturing my sunstar images. Keep in mind that timing is the key.

I start by anticipating where the sun will exactly rise/set, on which edge or corner it would peek from. Wait for that perfect moment and begin by taking multiple exposures (sunstar included) from brightest to darkest until I get the entire dynamic range of the sky. Sample below:

Then I refocus on the foreground and place my finger in front of the lens (just covering the sun). Why? To get a well balanced, properly exposed, without any flares on the foreground.

So that's a total of six images, five for the sky and one for the foreground. What's next? Combining them all in processing!

I open all six images simultaneously in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) - Do the proper white balance adjustments, chromatic abberation removals and lens corrections. Synchronize the adjustments over all the images before I open them in PS (Photoshop).

Next, I stack all the sky images as layers in PS. Then with the use of my preferred masking techniques and actions, I would bring out a properly exposed image from combining all the sky images together.

I use the TKActions panels by Tony Kuyper Photography's luminosity masking as a tool to seamlessly combine all exposures together (TKActions Panel available here: http://goodlight.us). Make sure to flatten the image when you are done:

Next, blending the foreground with the sky.

I select and copy my foreground image and paste it over the flattened sky image as a layer.

I use the PS's Auto-Align layers... feature just to make sure that everything is properly aligned before i proceed with my masking. I would not want any ghosting effect when I combine the sky and foreground together. Below is PS's auto-align feature:

Now with both layers aligned properly, combining the well lit foreground with the sky will be easy. It is up to you on how much you would want to bring back from the foreground exposure. I do it on a low level opacity to keep everything looking natural.

Keep in mind that in masking, there's no exact number on opacity, strokes etc,. Images are not the same. Process it based on your taste and use the histogram as a guide.

Whoala! Here's the final processed image:

That's all folks! I hope you learned something from it! Keep on shooting! Keep on practicing! And if you liked it, Please do share!

More of my images at:

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@2016 by Patrick Marson Ong

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