Upstairs

Upstairs

Ah, the classic sunstar-from-behind-a-building photo. It’s one I’ve done many times before and yet it continues to be the type of picture I really enjoy revisiting. When I took this I had no special intention of making the particular picture you see here but I’m quite happy with how it all turned out. At the time I shot this I was running an errand at work and, as I often do, I brought my camera with me. On this occasion it was my D750 + 50mm combo which I knew would give me a little wider field of view than my D7100, so when I saw the sun poking out from behind the stairwell on a parking garage I thought it might make for a slightly more interesting photo than I would normally get with my crop sensor D7100. For me the biggest consideration here was of a compositional nature: there were three elements at play, and I had to decide how I wanted them to all interact within the frame. The parking garage, the sky, and the sun all come together to form a cohesive whole, and I had to figure out where I would stand and point my camera in order to get the shot I was looking for. (FYI, nothing here was cropped. What you see is what I got.)

Ironically the first thing I decided was the aperture of my lens; when shooting a starburst like this you need to stop your lens down quite a bit to get the light to make that cool star pattern which usually requires something around f/11 to f/16. I set my camera to f/13 and moved around until I could just barely see the sun poking out from behind the roof of the stairwell, which is key for a shot like this. If you point your camera straight at the sun you will just get a giant overexposed blob, so you have to get just a bit of the sun peeking out from behind something else like a tree or building.

After deciding my aperture I tried a couple different places to stand that would still show a bit of the sun and took a grand total of five images from slightly different angles. The sky was actually quite overcast which meant I was able to pull out a great deal of blue color detail in Lightroom that would have normally been way, way too overexposed to salvage and I also used the Healing brush to take out about a half dozen little brown spots on the concrete side of the structure.

To me this picture is somewhat of an exercise in how to convey a sense of size or create a particular mood, as well as a reminder of how much I have grown as a photographer in the last several years. If I had made this image in 2012 I would have taken 50 shots from all sorts of angles and tried all kinds of different settings, but here I only took five and it was over in less than a minute. These days I have a much better idea of how to control my camera to get the shot I want, and I try to avoid taking dozens and dozens of photos of the same scene to get that one perfect shot. There is no such thing as the perfect image, and instead I try to get photos that I like and with which I am well pleased, and then go back to my life. That’s what happened here and I hope you like this shot too :)

Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your analysis of the shot. It makes me more cognizant of the possibilities.

    • Thank you Carolyn! I’m glad you enjoy the analysis. Seeing the photographic opportunities all around me on a daily basis is something with which I struggle almost daily, and I’m glad this post helped you see a few more possibilities too :)

  2. Nice photo—liked the idea of the sun burst. Personally, I would have taken this into post processing to have tried to tease a little more drama from the sky.

    • I’m glad you like it, Chris! And I appreciate hearing your input on the different editing choices you would have made too. It’s always interesting to see how other people approach the same picture in terms of editing, since we all have our own vision for what we want it to look like.

      I’m honestly curious how you would have edited the sky, and I think it might give me some ideas for future pictures! If you’d like to give it a shot, here is the RAW original in case you want to play around with it :)

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/gflbyn5idex9g8p/DFF_7017.nef?dl=0

  3. Simon–
    Indeed, you did not present a macro shot today! I like the concept of shooting “sunbursts”. I am especially glad you gave us instruction on what size aperture to use. Hmmm…f/13? And on an overcast day? That does let us know that the sun produces an awesome amount of light when taking photos. I, too, am tending to leave my D7100 in auto ISO. It is working really good. Thank you for a helpful lesson this week. Christos Anesti!

    • Thank you David! If you haven’t tried shooting sunbursts you might give it a try. It’s fun to see what you can come up with! Just make sure to not point your camera directly at the sun, but instead have the sun peeking out from behind a building, tree, etc. Stop down to f/11 or so, take a few photos, and voila!

  4. Your commentary on what thought went into taking a particular shot is valuable. I have recommended your blog to a few people because of your explanations. I’m always interested in how a photographer composes their shots. I might have shot this vertically to get more the feel of the height of the stairs. But with this orientation, I get more of the feel of the sky and the weather conditions.

    Thanks for the once a week good read.

  5. AS always, a great lesson from Simon. I wonder about the application of ND filters in sunburst photography. Or even a Polarizing filter.
    Thank you.

    • That’s a good question, and I think either one would work just fine. Using ND filters would let you get a little more foreground exposure on a bright sunny day, though I’m not sure exactly how a polarizing filter would impact the image since you’re basically shooting right into your light source. It’s worth trying though :)

  6. Carl Rella says:

    Look forward to your column every week. By coincidence, just a few days ago I got a nice sunburst here in Bangor, Maine. The Bangor State Fair arrived in town for about the 150th time, and, while it was here, I spent some time wandering around the fairground each morning before opening to see what I could come up with before the crowds arrived. I hadn’t had much luck, but then, I noticed the sun lining up with the Ferris wheel. By pure chance, I was there just as the sun lined up with the top of the wheel which I thought might make a nice shot. I got this with an old 8MP Olympus SP550 which I use when I don’t feel like carrying something heavy around my neck. I set it at the camera’s smallest aperture (f/8) and with a little positioning and probably a lot of luck, got this shot : https://flic.kr/p/KTjdLG In addition to the sunburst, I like the long shadow the Ferris wheel cast and the way the shot captured the desolate feel of the fairground that morning. Hope you enjoy it, and thanks again for your column! Carl

    • What a beautiful photo, Carl! Thanks for sharing the process by which you took it, and I’m going to try to re-create it if I am ever in a similar situation. I’m glad you said you took it with an 8MP compact camera too. It just goes to show that composition and technique are usually way more important than having the latest, greatest gear. Keep up the good work!

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