When the weather isn’t cooperating, let this tutorial teach you how to create light rays in Photoshop in just five easy steps!
Table of contents
- You can download the tutorial image from Unsplash.
Create a Desaturate Noisy Gradient Fill
Start learning how to create light rays in Photoshop by clicking on the New Adjustment Layer icon > Gradient Fill.
On the Gradient Fill window, set the Style to Angle.
Click on the gradient to bring out the Gradient Editor window.
Then, set the Gradient Type to Noise and this will result in an interesting radial pattern that mimics sun rays.
Change the Color Model to HSB and use the H, S, and B sliders to control the color of the noise.
Start by reducing the Saturation slider to its minimum value.
If you don’t like the current pattern of the noise, click on the Randomize button to shift through different patterns until you end up that looks similar to this:
Then, press OK to exit the window.
Use The Screen Blending Mode to Hide Dark Pixels
To create light rays in Photoshop, set the Gradient Fill Layer’s Blending Mode to Screen to hide the dark pixels, and only keep the bright pixels. This creates the illusion of light rays.
Place The Light Rays into Position
Double-click on the Gradient Fill layer thumbnail to bring out the Gradient Fill window.
Then, simply click-and-drag on the image to reposition the light rays.
While you’re here, you can adjust the angle of the gradient by inputting angle value or simply adjusting the angle in the circle.
Fine-Tune The Gradient (Brightness and Color)
You can use two techniques to fine-tune the gradient for the sunrays.
Click on the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Levels.
Click on the Clipping Mask icon to clip it to the layer below, this means it will only affect the layer directly below it, which is the Gradient Fill.
Modify the Adjusting Levels to create more contrast or add more brightness to the gradient. Take note that the Blending Mode is set to Screen so the contrast you add to it hides the darker pixels.
Click on the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Hue/Saturation.
Click on the Clipping Mask icon to clip it to the layer below.
Check the box for Colorize to apply color.
Using the Hue slider, adjust it towards the yellow-orange area to achieve a warm set of sunrays.
You may also increase the Saturation slider for a more vibrant look.
Selectively Apply The Light Rays with a Layer Mask
At the moment, the light rays are covering the entirety of the image, but you can choose which specific places you want to apply it.
Click on the Gradient Fill’s Layer Mask thumbnail and press Ctrl I (Windows) or Command I (macOS) to invert the color of the Layer Mask into black.
Select the Brush tool and set the Foreground color to white (#000000).
Click-and-drag to paint on areas you want the light rays effect to apply.
However, you might notice a bit of an error where, as you paint on different areas, the center of the light rays shifts from one place to the other.
To disable that, click on the chainlink icon to unlink the Layer Mask from the Gradient Fill layer.
Then double-click on the side of the layer to bring out the Layer Style window.
Under Advanced Blending, check the box for Layer Mask Hides Effects. Upon checking that box, the center of the light rays will shift back to its original position that you set in the earlier step.
Press OK to apply the changes and exit the window.
Click on the Gradient Fill’s Layer Mask and return to painting on areas on the image you want the light rays to appear.
Blur The Light Rays
Depending on the image that you are working with, you might want to soften the edges of the light rays.
To do that, right-click on the Gradient Fill layer > Convert to Smart Object.
Choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. By blurring the light rays, you will achieve a more realistic effect.
Drag The Slider To See Before & After