Sunbursts are one of my favourite underwater shots. They create bright, breathtaking images, full of light and colour. Sunburst Shots capture the beauty of the underwater world and provide eye-catching images with depth.
A classic Sunburst Shot features the sun as one of the main subjects of the photo. The sun can be positioned anywhere in the frame; in full view, behind the foreground subject, or even, partially out of the frame.
Sunburst Shots work really well when a colourful subject is positioned in the foreground, but it will be necessary to use an external strobe to counteract the intense light from the sun. If a strobe is not used, a striking image can still be achieved, but the foreground subject will be silhouetted.
Sunburst photography presents it’s own challenges. Getting yourself into a good position to frame the sun and foreground subject can sometimes feel a little like performing underwater acrobatics, but, when you get it just right, stunning results can be achieved.
How to get the best ‘Sunburst’ effect
You will have to adjust your camera settings to limit the amount of light reaching the sensor. Firstly, put the shutter speed up high, 1/1000 or higher. Having faster shutter speeds can help to ‘freeze’ the rays of the sun. Secondly, set a small aperture (high f-stop,) that will also limit the amount of light reaching the sensor. Using a SLR camera, this would be approximately f.16 or higher and f.6.3 – f.8, using a compact camera.
An aperture, combined with a fast shutter speed, will allow your camera to compensate for the brightness of the sun and will also give you a large depth of field, making the full image sharp and clear.
Should a strobe or strobes be used, to light the reef or the subject, you will need to have them set near to maximum power, or you will need to be very close to the subject.
It is advisable to photograph the Sunburst Shot either in the morning or late afternoon. The sun’s rays are normally more appealing at this time. The rays penetrate the sea at an acute angle, and there will be less possibility of the sun appearing over exposed in the photograph. Should you wish to photograph a sunburst in the middle of the day and it appears over exposed, you can try positioning the sun on the edge of the frame, or behind the subject. This technique will hide the over exposure of the sun and you should be left with beautiful rays around the subject.
When getting into position and ready to take the Sunburst Shot, be aware of the bubbles from your exhaled breath. You may be upside down or sideways on to the subject and your bubbles can ruin the photograph.
Sea conditions that can effect Sunburst Shots
Sea conditions can effect the outcome of your Sunburst Shots. Large waves and swell can alter how the sun’s rays are reflected through the water. The rays will not penetrate through and you may not achieve the desired effect.
Murky water will defuse the light at depth, but will actually define the rays in shallow waters, in much the same way as a misty morning can capture the sun’s rays through trees in a forest. The low sun produces long rays that are captured through the mist, or for underwater photographs, through the murky water.
Now is the time to put these techniques into practice!
It is a beautiful morning, the sun is shining the sea is calm, all is looking good for the prospect of some amazing Sunburst Shots. Look for that special subject and go for it!
Please visit our Tips & Tricks page for more advise and techniques.