How to Capture the Perfect Sunburst

Dive into a day of shooting with me around Colorado's San Juan mountains during the seasonal fall color change. One composition I stumble upon leads into a valuable lesson in perfecting how to capture a crisp and clean sunburst.

While facing many challenges throughout my autumn color adventure, I came across a simple composition that captured the essence of what it felt like driving through the San Juan national forest. The sun was still delivering warmer light through the forest foliage, which allowed me to put a little extra time and care into capturing a pleasing sunburst in my image. There are three major factors when capturing a sunburst:

  1. Shooting at f/16 or the highest aperture your lens can go before causing lens diffraction.
  2. Trying to capture the perfectly sized source of light, in this case, the sun
  3. If you're using a wide-angle zoom lens, typically the wider you shoot, think 16mm instead of 30mm, the sharper your sunburst will appear, but it comes at the cost of having the sun appear smaller in your frame.

Two of these factors can be controlled by the photographer quite easily by setting the camera's aperture to f/16 and balancing how small you want the sun to appear in your frame. The challenging part comes from perfecting the size of your source of light. In this video, I try to explain and show exactly what you need to do to find the sweet spot to capture a crisp sunburst. Sometimes, it takes a dance of moving your camera through the light rays with every frame you take, while other times, it may simply be waiting until the sun peeks perfectly around a mountain. 

Be sure to check out the two photos I captured and notice how different the sunburst looks depending on the focal distance used to capture it. I hope you enjoy, and I'd absolutely love to see some of your captures in the comments below!

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