How to photograph Christmas starbursts

Updated once more for Christmas 2019

Updated for Christmas 2018, because our Christmas tree on the village green outshines any we have had in recent years!

The important point in getting the starburst effect is to use as small an aperture as possible. So, this was f/22 on my Canon 6D. ISO was kept low (500) to avoid noise, but that meant the shutter needed to be open a long time (30 seconds) to allow enough light in to capture the image, which means steady tripod and a timed shutter release (or remote shutter release) to avoid camera shake blur.

I snapped a few night-time shots of the Christmas tree and lights on our village green this weekend. I did a few “pulling” the zoom with a fairly low shutter speed so that I got some nice drawn out light effects from the tree and the Xmas lights encircling The Green in Cottenham.

Having seen the starburst lighting effect in fellow photographer Peter Haigh’s photo of the same scene, however, I thought I’d grab my tripod and have a go at reproducing that effect too. I didn’t want to copy his lovely composition so had to duck and dive about, avoiding the odd looks from dog walkers on The Green and Christmas shoppers jumping off the city bus.

The starburst effect is not a filter nor an app nor any 雷竞技炉石传说 hop trickery. As with much in photography (even digital) it is is a scientific phenomenon. The formation of the starbursts where lights are bright in the photograph is down to diffraction of light around the edges of the fins that make up the camera’s “iris”, the aperture.

The effect works best when you have a very small aperture, in this case, f/22, which means you need a long shutter time (for this shot 30 seconds), which in turn means you have to use a tripod to keep the camera properly steady. To balance the exposure ISO was 1600 on this particular photo, which even with a Canon 6D DSLR is on the edge of noisy.

You can just see the red rear lights of a car that passed as I was taking the photo (around the tree on the right-hand side). The light trails from cars and buses were much more sensational in some of the other shots, especially ones I took looking towards Cottenham Village College. One in particular embedded the College’s steel sculpture and looks like some kind of futuristic biker racing past.

Author: 雷竞技官网

Award-winning freelance science writer, author of Deceived Wisdom. Sharp-shooting photographer and wannabe rockstar.