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Realistic sun rays with luminosity masks

Surely you have seen some of the videos on YouTube that show to add sun rays to the image.

I have blended following image from 4 exposures using luminosity masks. Sun was poking though the clouds, but even after I closed aperture to F22, sun beams were not prominent enough.

Example blended image from Dolomites

Here is a small re-cap on how to add fake sun rays.

  1. Create a restrictive mask that would have only lights on it.

Restrictive mask for lights

  1. Make a selection out of the mask and with selection active, duplicate your image with Cmd/Ctrl+J

New layer with only lights on it

  1. Convert new layer to a smart object

To simplify the next step, I recommend putting a black layer with 70% opacity under your layer with lights - that way it will be easier to see what's going on.

  1. With new layer having only lights, make a Radial blur with best quality, Zoom, 100 amount.

Radial blur settings for sun rays

The trick here is to place center of zoom to where your source of light is. Smart object will let you modify filter settings so play with it until you get best results.

Here you have some kind of sun rays. If there are enough of rays, you can just duplicate the layer 3-4 times or run more Radial blurs on top to make rays sharper.

First iteration of sun rays

If you were not lucky and rays turned out too short, here is what you can do. You would have to rasterize you smart object first to be able to paint on top.

  1. Pick a brush, 100 hardness and pick a color from your light source
  2. Set 100% opacity and select the size of the brush matching the furthest part of the sun rays you have.

Fake spots for sun rays 1

  1. Add 5-10 spots and run Radial blur filter again.

Fake spots for sun rays 2

  1. Set brush opacity 50%, increase the size of the brush to match end of your streaks, run the blur.

Fake spots for sun rays 3

Fake spots for sun rays 4

  1. Decrease opacity to 25% and repeat the steps.

Fake spots for sun rays 4

  1. Do the steps until you are happy.

Fake spots for sun rays 4

Fake spots for sun rays 4

You can see how you can push this effect even further with carefully and creatively placed brush spots.

Now, this results in much better sun rays, but they still look kind of fake.

Here is how to make them much more realistic.

Wrap all your rays into a group, create Lights luminosity mask and set it on the group.

Fake spots for sun rays 4

Better, right? With just 1 luminosity mask.