Balancing Light for SunburstsEven “boring” subjects, like this sea cucumber on the reef, can make a nice shot when you have amazing sunbursts and stay shallow.
Shooting perfect sunbursts has always been a challenge. Since changing from film to digital, though, the challenge has been getting that same detail as slides. Here are six tips for getting great sunburst shots in your photography.
1. Stay shallow. Sun rays are always stronger close to the surface — the deeper you go the light is more diffused, and you’ll just end up with a white blob. If you start a dive and the rays look great in the shallow water, look for something to shoot at that depth and make use of the conditions.
2. Sea conditions make a difference. Large waves and swell affect how the suns rays are reflected; they don’t penetrate as well.
3. Suns rays are normally more appealing in the early hours or late hours of the day. They penetrate at an acute angle, and you have less of a white blob in the centre.
4. Use fast shutter speeds to freeze the rays. If you are using strobes, then try to be at your maximum setting — 1/250 or 1/320, depending on which camera you are using.
5. Your aperture will need to be very small, probably between f/11 and f/22, depending on how bright the sun is and your depth. If you are using strobes to light the reef or a subject, then you will probably need to have them close to maximum power or be very close to your subject.
6. If you still have a white blob in the centre of the sunburst, try placing the sunburst on the edge of the frame or frame your subject in the sunburst. This breaks up the white blob and you should be left with beautiful rays on either side of your subject. So if you head to your first dive of the day and the sun is shining and the sea is flat calm, you know it’s a great time for some sunburst shots. Stay shallow and look for an exciting subject to place in your frame and voila!
Managing Director of Scubazoo Images based in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Jason Isley has been shooting the underwater world for more than 15 years. Although he started as a videographer, he now concentrates on photography and manages the publication department of Scubazoo.