Starbursts All Around

I’m not sure what motivated me. Just a quick thought, I suppose. I sort of had a photo in my mind, but I knew it wasn’t really possible either. But I figured it would be fun to give it a try and see what I could come up with. And what I got was a lot of starbursts as an airliner landed at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

I returned to one of my favorite spots to photograph the jets on arrival to the north runway complex at LAX. It was dark, so I knew the shutter speed would need to be a bit slow. I wanted to use that to my advantage to get streaks of light for an approaching airliner. Of course, as long as I was aiming for a long shutter speed, I might as well stop the lens down a bit more to get a starburst effect for the approach lights.

This naturally required a bit of a balance between the aperture (stopped down for starbursts), the shutter speed (slow, but not too slow), and the ISO setting (high enough to achieve a reasonably fast shutter speed, but not so high that noise would be a major issue).

The thing is, the starburst effect you achieve varies a bit depending on the specific aperture you set. In this case, using a 10-22mm lens, there was no question that the starburst effect was best at f/22. And I also needed to use a shutter speed of around one to two seconds to achieve the desired length for the streaks of light that would appear for each approaching jet. That ultimately meant that I needed to keep the ISO relatively high, and I settled for 3200 ISO. Keep in mind, of course, that the key subject was the lighting. So, I didn’t need to expose for the really dark areas. Instead I focused on making sure that the lights looked their best.

I was fortunate that in this situation I was able to take plenty of practice shots in between landing jets, so I could evaluate the results and decide what the best settings were. And there were plenty of jets approaching over the time I was there, ensuring I would be able to keep trying until I got it right. Not that I wanted to be there all night.

This was most certainly one of those situations where I was photographing for the pure fun of it. I had no expectations whatsoever for the photos. I just had an idea that seemed like it might be fun to explore, so I did. And I got a lot of starbursts in return, including starbursts on the rotating beacon and strobe on the underside of the fuselage. Fun!

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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One Response to Starbursts All Around

  1. Very nice effect. I gotta get out and try some of this stuff.

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