Fix It In Photoshop | How To Create Sun rays

David Coultham

This technique is great for any photograph where you have light peeking through from the background. The general principle is that you need some form of an existing bright light source in the image because we use one of the bright areas to apply the effect.

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Video | Light Rays Effect In Adobe Photoshop

In this example image, we can see there are several bright spots of light, in particular on the right edge.

STEP 1: The idea, is to use the natural Highlights from the image and then turn those into sunrays using a Blur Filter. We do this on a separate Layer, so we are not going to do anything destructive to the original image. We first need to grab the Highlights. To do this, we have a mode of selection called Color Range. 

With the Background Layer selected in the Layers Tab, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Select > Color Range’. Now, from the pop-up window select the ‘Black Matte’ option from the Selection Preview pull-down menu. You will see that the image in the document window turns pure black and white; where white represents the bright areas of your image.

STEP 2: By default, the Select mode in the Color Range picker window is Sampled Colors. Using the Select pull-down menu, set the mode to Highlights as illustrated below.

The Document Window will now display your image as black with mid to darker tones, and you will see colors with highlights and whiter tones.

STEP 3: Still working from the Color Range picker window, adjust the Fuzziness slider to zero, then increase the Range until you are mainly picking up the sky portions and not the leaves or other elements of the image. In this case, the Range value was about 240.

Then, so that the edges are not too harsh in the selection, lift the Fuzziness to give a little variability in the effect. Only a little of this is needed, as you don’t want to start picking up the foreground elements. In this image, I set fuzziness to 10%.

When you are happy with your adjustments, press OK to commit the Color Range selection. The pop-up window closes, and you will notice that your image has a selection of the highlights indicated by Marching Ants.

STEP 4: The next step is to put the selected pixels onto their Layer using Command J (on a Mac) or Control J (on a PC). You can also achieve this the long way around through the Application Bar using ‘Layer > New > Layer Via Copy’. Before we do anything to this new Layer, go ahead and turn it into a Smart Object so that we can work on it non-destructively. Head to the Application Bar and ‘Filter > Convert for Smart Filters’. Now rename the  Layer ‘Sun Rays’. The Sun Rays layer needs to be on the top of the Layer Stack like this:

STEP 5: Go to the Application Bar again,  and select ‘Filters > Blur > Radial Blur’. This brings up a little pop-up window illustrated right. 

Set the Amount slider to 100, the Blur Method to ‘Zoom’, and the Quality to ‘Best’. The trick next is to set the little cross hairs in the Blur Center display to where the sun is coming into the image. Don’t worry if you get this wrong, because it’s 

a Smart Filter you can always go back again to change the Radial Blur effect afterward.  Once you are happy, select OK to commit the change. 

NOTE: If you are struggling to get any sun ray effect at all, then it is probable that you had the Range set too high at Step 3. In this case, you are best to start over.

STEP 6: At this stage, you are not going to see much difference because the intensity of the effect from one Layer is so low. To counteract this, make several copies of the Sun Rays layer (illustrated right). You can do this either by dragging the Layer down to the ‘Create A New Layer’ icon at the bottom of the Layers Tab or selecting ‘Layer > Duplicate Layer’ from the Application Bar. 

STEP 7: The Effect needs softening so that the Sun Rays are less sharp at the outer fringes. From the Layers Tab, select the top Sun Rays Layer then press and hold the Shift key whilst you select the bottom-most Sun Rays Layer.

Then, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Layers > Convert for Smart Filters’. This collapses all the selected Layers down into a single Layer, which you can rename ‘Sun Rays’ again (illustrated below).

STEP 8: From the Application Bar go to ‘Filter > Blur Gallery > Field Blur’. This opens up the Blur Gallery interface and places a single Field Blur pin onto your image. The idea with this tool is that you first add Field Blur pins to the areas that you want to preserve focus, and then add Field Blur where you want to create blur.  

Move the Field Blur pin to the center of the sun rays by clicking and dragging it, and set the blur amount to 0px; as illustrated below.

STEP 9: Add pins at the ends of the sun rays at various points in the image, and set the blur to around 30px for each.  You add pins by clicking on your image in the document window in the places you want them to be. This will make the sun rays more blurred the further away they are from the center, so they are more realistic. Once happy with the effect press OK at the top of the panel to commit the change.

STEP 10: By changing the Blend Mode of the sun rays layer from  Normal to Screen Mode (illustrated right), will make the overall effect look more natural. If these were regular sun rays they wouldn’t darken the areas as they pass through the foliage. Setting the blend mode to Screen means the Layers will blend based on the lightest tones of the two layers and thus avoid darkening. 

It is usually a good idea at this final stage to set the Opacity of the Sun Rays Layer down as well, to lessen the severity of the effect. In this instance, I reduced Opacity down to about 70%.

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