There is a very simple way to add charm to your photos; a very inexpensive special effect. It’s called a ‘star filter.’ It works via a series of fine lines through the glass which intersect, causing a ‘star’ effect.
They typically come in four, six, or eight points. The one you see above is of course a six-point. A four-point would have fewer lines and shallower angles at the intersection. An eight point would be the opposite; steeper angles at the intersection and more lines.
Star filters work best on lights that are small or distant, and are somewhat intense. If you were to try it on a campfire, it probably wouldn’t work so well. City lights, however, are another story. Christmas decorations are also good to try it on. As always, I would encourage experimentation.
A word of caution though, flash doesn’t work so well with star filters. The reason being that flash tends to overpower the lights you are shooting. If you need to use it, make sure that the lights you want the star effect on are either in the background, or that you use a long enough exposure in order to let enough light in to compensate.
As an example, suppose you want to photograph someone in front of lights. You might need to use flash. If so, you can use the freezing action of flash to prevent blur, and keep the shutter open for a bit longer in order to basically allow ambient light to catch up. The important thing to remember in that situation is that you’ll want to have the subject stay as still as possible. If there is a lot of available light, ghosting can occur if the subject moves too much. To demonstrate ghosting, here is a photo that was taken just for fun… After the cube fired, everyone moved out of the frame until the shutter closed two seconds later.
So give a star filter a try! They are very inexpensive, and really can add a special flare if you get the lighting right.