In the past, we’ve shown you flash photography tips and tricks using various modifiers to create different effects such as faking golden hour and creating spotlights. In today’s tutorial, we’re teaching you how to create a starburst effect with a bare bulb off-camera flash and a high aperture. This is an excerpt from one of our best-selling courses, Lighting 3, that covers everything you need to know about on-location lighting solutions.

Flash Photography Tips and Tricks: Starburst Effect (Video)

Download the exercise files here and edit along with Pye after the shooting portion of this tutorial! Before diving into the actual tutorial, let’s cover the gear we are using to make this shot.

Flash Gear Used in This Tutorial

  • 3-4 200w/s strobes or higher: we used 4 x AD200s for this tutorial, however since making it there have been so many new additions to the market so pick your poison.
  • Lighting Stands: It’s going to be easiest to have your lights on stands, we love the Manfrotto Nano Stands
  • Lighting Modifier for main light: for this tutorial we used the MagBox as our key light to light our subject with 2 AD200’s attached to a MagRing. Once again, any softbox will work as long as you pinpoint the light onto the subject rather than letting it spill on the ground.

Every tutorial in Lighting 3 follows the C.A.M.P framework we developed to help you create a standout image, every time, no matter the circumstances. In a previous YouTube tutorial, we discussed how we arrived at this composition in the rundown gas station. Let’s dive into how we lit this image and the settings we used to arrive at the final shot.

Flash Photography Tips and Tricks: High Aperture Starburst Effect

The term “flare” is used to describe any light source directly entering the lens. There are two factors that are contributing to creating this starburst effect with our off-camera flashes. While this effect can occur with natural light (such as the sun or LED lights in the background of images) using off-camera flashes that you can control is a much easier way to achieve this effect. In our previous tutorial, we showed how to achieve the starburst effect with the sun and in this tutorial, we will be covering how to replicate that effect using off-camera flashes.

1. Adjust Aperture to f/7-f/14

flash photography tips and tricksClosing down our aperture is what is going to enable the light flare, which originally would have been more of a blooming effect, to resemble the starburst shape. You’ll see the image on the left is from this tutorial where our aperture was set to f/14 while the image on the right, (which is actually a high powered strobe mimicking golden hour) has an aperture of f/2.8). By adjusting your aperture to anywhere between f/7-14 you’ll be able to get this effect. Anywhere above that might result in diffraction, an optical effect that limits the total resolution of your photography.

 2. Check to See How Many Blades of Aperture Your Lens Has

aperture iris blades starbursts sunstars 800x800
Learn more about aperture here.

The number of blades of aperture that your lens has is what will lend a unique look to this starburst effect. Each lens will have a different starburst pattern that it will render depending on the blade count. For this image, we are using the Canon 28-70mm f/2 RF lens which has 9 rounded aperture blades.

3. Hide Light Stands

flash photography tips and tricks 1While this step isn’t necessary for creating the effect, it’s a great option for creating a less distracting lighting setup. I conveniently had two gas pumps to hide my light stands behind, so it worked out in this scenario, but if you don’t have an object you can use to hide your light stands you can always composite them out.

If you want to see more tutorials from this course be sure to check out Lighting 3 on or purchase all four of our flash courses as part of our Flash Photography Training System. All of our lighting courses, as well as comprehensive Lightroom, posing, and business tutorials are available as part of our Premium membership. If you’re looking to build confidence in your flash photography work, make sure you post your images in our free Lighting & OCF Facebook group – this is a great resource to learn from peers and see the latest trends in portrait photography lighting.