Creating light rays in Photoshop

There are many ways to make light rays in Photoshop. In what follows I have complied the easiest way and it consists of 6 easy steps.


Note: for this tutorial I am using Photoshop CS6 but it will work in earlier versions.

Step 1

Find a photo in your library with a strong light source i.e. sun, moon, artificial light, etc.) Open the photo and create a new layer by clicking on the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette. I got into the habit of immediately naming my layers as a best practice in order to know later what was the objective of the layer creation. If for example for cleaning a portrait for blemishes I would name it “face cleaning”. For the sake of this post, name your layer something simple like ‘ Rays’

Step 2

Set the colour of the ‘Rays’ layer to White in the foreground and Black in the background. If this is your default Photoshop colour then you don’t need to do anything. Next, make sure you select the layer you just created and go to the menu and select Filter – Render - Clouds. Your layer should now look like this…


Step 3

Go to menu and select Image - Adjustment - Threshold and hit the ‘OK’ button. Your layer will now look like this..


Step 4

Go to Filter - Blur - Radial Blur and set Amount = 84, Blur Method = Zoom, and Quality = Good

The arrow will illustrate to you where the rays will start from.

You need to place the blur centre over your light source or where the strongest light is in the photo. In my example, I need to have the rays initiated from the top so I placed the ‘Blur Centre’ option it in the top centre. You can achieve this by clicking and dragging your mouse to the source of light in the ‘Blur Center’ square box.  Click OK.

Radial Blur.png
Blur Applied.png

Hold on, we are nearly done…

Step 5

As a final step, now, set the blending mode of the ‘Rays’ layer to Soft Light. Reduce the ‘Opacity’ to something near 75% and ‘Fill’ to 90%. This is like salt; use it at your own personal taste and depending on the photo lighting conditions and exposure.


Step 6

Now add a layer mask to this layer by clicking on the layer mask icon at the bottom of layers palette. Make sure to set the foreground colour to Black. Set the background colour to White. Select a soft round brush 200px.

With the layer mask selected, paint over the areas you want to hide with the black brush.

Here I have removed the rays from the front tree trunk because the rays should be behind the tree. If you go too far, change the foreground colour to White (Shortcut=X) and that will bring the rays back.

Like everything when it comes to post-processing your photo: don’t over do it. Subtle changes always tend to appear natural to your viewers.

Voila! Simple and effective don’t you think?