Sun-stars can add Sparkle to Your Shots

Especially when travelling, you aren’t really in control of the lighting you are going to encounter. One little trick that was taught to me when I first started travelling and doing workshops with my good friend, Ian Rolfe, was the technique of shooting sun- stars.

Any time that there is a facinating subject, particularly in a landscape, and you are faced with having to shoot into the sun, this technique can be used to great advantage. Like all things, it’s a case of doing it well and doing in moderation. If all your images in a series included a sun-star, it would quickly become boring, rather than adding variety and interest.

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Mesa Arch, Utah, shortly after Sunrise

Firstly, let us understand what we are trying to achieve. 

We want the sun to be included in the shot but in a way that causes the light to be diffused by the diaphragm of the lens, allowing leakage of light to occur around the diaphragm’s blades. This leakage creates the star effect without full-blown glare.

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Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah

How do we achieve this effect?

Two main criteria come into play to achieve the star effect.

  1. A very small aperture of at least f16 or even smaller, f22 if your lens shuts down that far. Some may argue that as a result of using the lens’s smallest aperture, diffraction will cause degradation of the rest of the image. If that worries you, take your lens to its smallest aperture then open it up one stop as a compromise.
  2.  The sun must be partially obscured at the moment the shutter is pressed. Ideally, you only want about half of the sun peeping out from behind the subject. This makes using a tripod very difficult as the sun appears to move very quickly. No sooner have you aligned it, and it has moved too much. Hand-holding the camera and moving the body slightly seems to be more productive.
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Zion National Park


Wide-angle lenses work well

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Arches National Park, Utah

Lens flare can often add to the desired effect. If you find flare objectionable, be prepared to do some careful editing of the image to remove it later. This can be very problematic, depending on the particular image. It is always worthwhile taking several shots at the time of capture then choosing the easiest one to work with later.

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Be prepared for lens flare

Clean your lens frequently as any slight amount of dust or salt spray will add to your woes and create unnatural looking blobs of flare. Bulbous front elements of wide-angle lenses are notorious for this.

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Arches National Park, Utah

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Zion National Park

Have fun experimenting along the way and keep this easy-to-master technique in mind next time you find you wish to add a little variety to your work.


88.3 FM Friday Magazine Radio Interview

Talking photography with Leanne and Paul at the studio of Southern FM 88.3 Friday Magazine session on 10th January 2020

Interview begins at 7:30 sec into the broadcast

Storm over Half Moon Bay
Jellyfish – Vertical Landscape
Popular tourist destination – Dendy Street, Brighton.
Dendy Street, Brighton Vic.
Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris
Nepenthes – Pitcher Plant
A trap for the unwary Cockroach – Venus Fly Trap
Walking on the Edge

Long Exposure Photography

Long Exposure Photography Using a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

Kimmeridge Bay, England
30 seconds

If the following steps are followed carefully, newcomers to this style of photography will quickly achieve impressive results. Deviation from the procedure will quickly render unexpected and usually undesirable effects and lead to frustration.

The principle to remember is that we are trying to extend the period of time that the shutter needs to remain open by placing a dark filter in front of the lens, and thus recording motion in the image as blur. During the exposure, it is paramount that there is no movement of the camera or light leakage into the camera via an ill-fitting filter or through the camera’s eyepiece.

Of course, we need movement of some elements of the image, usually water or clouds, or a combination of both, as well as static parts of the image such as structures or other immovable objects such as rocks.

Preliminary set-up

  1. Adjust your camera to its lowest ISO setting. This may be 100 or in some cases 50
  2. Make sure “auto ISO” is turned off if this is a setting you sometimes use and forget.
  3. Set your camera to Aperture Priority and a small aperture (big number) say f16 or smaller.
  4. Set your lens to Auto-Focus
  5. Mount the camera on a tripod
  6. Compose the shot and pre-focus
  7. Take a test shot and make a note of the shutter speed.

Now you are ready to progress to the second part of the process.

  1. Calculate the exposure that will be required once the 10-stop filter is attached.  Remember you have to double the time in step 7 above, 10 times. For example, 1/30th second becomes 30 whole seconds. The doubling goes like this starting with your base of 1/30th sec: 1/15th, 1/8th, 1/4th, 1/2, 1 sec, 2 sec, 4 sec, 8 sec, 16 sec, 32 sec. There are phone apps and calculation charts for this that make it easy to do the maths.
  2. If the new exposure is less than 30 seconds, you may remain in aperture priority, otherwise, follow the next step.
  3. Put the camera’s mode dial into manual mode. Aperture priority will only work for 30 seconds or shorter exposures, and you may end up wanting more.
  4. In Manual mode, dial in your desired aperture and shutter speed in seconds up to 30. Longer than 30 seconds requires the BULB setting and a cable or remote release and a watch or some other timing device.
  5. Switch the lens to Manual Focus being careful not to disturb the focus setting in step 6 above.
  6. Switch off image stabilisation if you have it.
  7. Carefully attach the 10 stop filter making sure not to push hard enough on the lens to cause the zoom setting to move or the focus ring to move.
  8. Cover or shield the eyepiece to prevent light from entering and affecting the exposure.
  9. Take the shot and check the image either on the review screen or look at the histogram.

Looking at the following examples, I think you will agree that once you master the technique for long exposure photography, it will open up a whole new dimension to your images.

Jurassic Coast, England
15 seconds
Shelley Beach, Portsea Vic.
30 seconds
Dendy St. Brighton Vic.
90 seconds
Mystic – Cape Schanck Vic.
179 seconds
Buachaille Etive Mor – Scotland
25 seconds
Loch an Eilein Castle Ruins – Scotland
3 seconds
SS Speke Shipwreck – Phillip Island Vic.
2 seconds

A Step Back in Time

A visit to Coal Creek Community Park & Museum created great opportunities for photography.

Coal Creek is a small recreated town in the South Gippsland area of Victoria, Australia, now essentially a suburb of Korumburra. Black coal was discovered in the area in 1872, and the region subsequently developed an important coal mining industry.

Old buildings crammed with relics from a past era authentically displayed complete with cobwebs and dust added to the atmosphere.

Rather than capture the wider scenes of the views of the buildings and surrounds, my mission was to hone in on the smaller detail using just the one lens, (105mm f1.4), which in itself created quite a challenge in the confined spaces. The use of the shallow depth of field and the lovely indirect lighting produced some pleasing results on the day.

Shearer’s wool basket

Grocery shop scale weights

A Snapshot of Japan Part 4 – The Tourist Spots

Of course, when you venture to a faraway land with camera in hand, the first thoughts are to visit the main attractions and get the proverbial “record shots”. You know what I mean, the touristy shots, and Japan is full of them. As I mentioned in Part 1 of the series, the busloads of tourists start arriving by 9.00am so it’s a matter of getting to a popular location early if you want people free photographs.

Here are few of the iconic locations that we visited where we managed to get a half decent shot, many of them you may recognise from travel brochures and the like.

I hope you have enjoyed the 4 part series as much as I have enjoyed putting together a handful of the 3,000 photographs taken during our visit to this fascinating land. We only touched on a few locations, mostly in the major cities, and a visit to the northern regions and more rural locations would create a totally different impression.


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A Snapshot of Japan Part 3 – The Food Stalls

One of the attractions for heading to Japan other than to see the cherry blossom in full bloom was to visit the small bars and eateries to photograph the subduedly light mood and atmosphere of the environment.

I wasn’t disappointed! The alleyways were filled with small establishments packed with people, both locals and tourists alike. In the months before the trip, I had images in my head that I just wanted to capture. I knew what they were and what I wanted to achieve long before arriving. I even purchased the lens for the job, a 35mm f1.4 that would perform well in low light and give me the desired shallow depth of field. For the non-photographers reading this, it meant I wanted the subject sharp and the background out of focus but sufficiently recognisable to place the subject into context. I think I achieved that on a few occasions.

The food, well what can I say other than it’s out of this world, or at least the part of the world I’m used to living in. Small morsels of tasty meat and poultry seared over hot coals and dipped into some of the tastiest of sauces I’ve ever come across. One I shall never forget though was the small round tomatoes wrapped in bacon, cooked over coals and served piping hot three to a skewer. The burst of the combination of sweet tomato juices and salty bacon as you bit into them was unbelievable.



A Snapshot of Japan Part 2 – The People

When you arrive in Japan the first thing that strikes you is that there are lots of people, and I really mean lots. Most are local residents, but then there are also the busloads of tour groups who arrive at the popular locations in their masses. When faced with the dilemma of photographing interesting scenes in crowded locations the solution is to include the people and make them the subject.

Here are a few shots of people going about their daily routine that were taken in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.


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