Photoshop is GREAT for Natural Light Rays

There are many programs and plugins you can use to make light rays bursting through your image.  However, few have the control over the effect that Photoshop does.  Using things like Blend If, or Opacity you can protect specific areas from receiving the impact.  One of the dead giveaways that a filter was used is a contrived look that happens when shadow areas do not show through the bursting light effect.

Light Rays in Photoshop

In this tutorial, I will show you how to fake the look of sun rays bursting through a tree’s canopy.  It is beneficial for this type of image, but keep in mind that not all photos are created equal!  Some pictures will look fake even when you do put forth the effort to protect your shadows with Blend If.

I have included an Action and a Video Tutorial below, but here are the steps in written form as well.

1.  Make a stamp of all of your work by pressing CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E (CMD+Option+Shift+E on Mac)

2.  Go to select in the menu bar of Photoshop, then navigate to Color Range

3.  Choose either the “Sampled Color” and make a selection with the eyedropper for the highlights, or choose “Highlights” from the drop-down.

4.  Use the Fuzziness and/or range to dial in those highlights just right

5.  When you press okay Photoshop will output the selection with the “racing ants.”

6.  Make a mask on your Stamped Layer for the newly selected Highlights.

7.  Drag the mask to the trash and when prompted select “Apply.”

8.  Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur

9.  Set it to Zoom, and Best, and drag the slider as far as it will go to the right.  Press Ok.

10.  Open the Blending Options Dialog by double-clicking next to the text of the sampled layer.

11.  Use the Blend if slider to protect the shadows.  Pressing Alt or Option will allow you to feather the effect.

12.  That’s it!  Now you can lower the Opacity, Duplicate the Effect, or optionally Gaussian Blur the Effect for a more hazy approach.


Download the Light Rays Action

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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