Creating Your Own Rays of Sunlight

Creating Your Own Rays of Sunlight

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Some of the most impressive woodland photographs are those with rays of sunlight streaking through the trees making the landscape look dreamy and surreal, but when the lighting isn’t perfect in the woods, and you want to add your own magical atmosphere to make the perfect shot, why not create some of your own light rays in Photoshop. It’s actually easier than you might think.

Hen Cloud woodland

For this tutorial, we will be using the above photograph, which was taken by Flickr user, Alex Bailey and we’ll be adding our own rays of light to it.

Step One

Open your Image in Photoshop.


Step Two

Duplicate the Background Layer. (Right click the background layer, click Duplicate Layer.)


Step Three

While on the top layer, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and take the middle slider as far right as you can, this defines the light source.


Step Four

I like to have my rays white, so you can go Image > Adjustments > Desaturate, otherwise skip to the next step to leave a little colour in them.


Step Five

To get our rays, click Filter > Blur > Radial Blur, set the ‘Amount’ to 100, make sure ‘Zoom’ is selected and set it on ‘Best Quality’. Drag the ‘Blur Centre’ to where your light source is. Hit ok. Do this a couple of times to blur the rays a bit or alternatively, go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set a value of between 3 and 10.


Step Six

Change the layers’ Blending Options to ‘Screen’


Step Seven

Adjust the rays’ brightness by clicking Image > Adjustments > Levels and drag the far right slider across to the left until you are satisfied with the results. Also, try dragging the middle slider to the left instead of the right one, I find sometimes the light source get less ‘burned out’ by doing this.


Final Result

With a little bit of tinkering you can get a pretty natural looking result, although I have found it’s best not to overdo it too much. Try it for yourself, good luck and go have fun in the woods!

Final Image

This article was part of the Landscape Photography Series.

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Andy Jones  13 years ago

Geat tutorial Mark, I have tried to follow the steps but I am obviously missing something. Should I be using new layers, masks etc during each stage? I have only just started using photoshop “CS2” and I am still finding it confusing.

Mark Evans  13 years ago

Hi Andy, you don’t need masks or new layers in between steps, all alterations are on the copy of the background layer, following it through should get you some rays! What part are you stuck at?

Andy Jones  13 years ago

Hi Mark. follwed the whole process through. No problem to step 6, but not sure how to get the photo up at step 7.

Mark Evans  13 years ago

Hi Andy, with step 6 you set the layers blend mode to ‘screen’ in the drop down box on the right of your screen (the box to the left of opacity, above your layers), this box should have other options like ‘Hard Light’, ‘Soft Light’ ‘Multiply’ etc, but just set it to the ‘Screen’ option, then do step 7.
Hope that helps you out a bit! Feel free to ask more questions if you’re still stuck.

Andy Jones  13 years ago

Thanks Mark. I realy appreciate your help. I will give it a try over the week-end.

Andy Jones  13 years ago

Mark. Worked a treat, thanks very much for your help.

Tracy Fanslow  13 years ago

Thank you so much for these instructions. Can’t wait to look thru my photos for something to try this on!

mirza  13 years ago

U R great.. Realy cool trick….

afifisa  12 years ago

thnx Mark. I tried it and succeed. God bless you.

Sarah Laurel  10 years ago

Going to be doing woodland shots soon, so will go with your wonderfully clear tutorial in mind – Thanks

Jen  8 years ago

Hello :-)

I’ve followed all steps and it’s not working :-( I have the two layers and have followed everything, but I don’t know how the rays end up on the original pic? Is there later unlocking or merging that needs to happen? Please help x

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