Software

How to enhance landscape photography with light rays

Once you've mastered some basic techniques to produce beautiful landscape photography, step it up a notch by tastefully enhancing the sunshine in your image.

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In our previous article, we covered how to master the timing, composition and editing of landscape photography. Now let's level up and start enhancing those photos. Say you have a landscape view during sunset. It's beautiful, but it would be more dramatic if the sun had rays that were more visible. You know? Just a little bit of flare. You can easily add sun or light rays to any photo that has a light source in it. It's pretty easy to do within Photoshop. Here's how.

Carefully select your image

You have to be sure to pick a photo that will work for this technique. Some photographers try to add light or sun rays to an image that has no true light source. Having these rays show up where there's no assumed light source just looks. . .weird. Be selective in your image choice.

SEE: Landscape Photography (TechRepublic Academy)

Dive into Photoshop

After you've found your photo, open it up in Photoshop. You'll have an initial background layer within the Photoshop interface on the right side of the screen. Duplicate that layer under the menu options by clicking Layer > Duplicate Layer (Figure A).

Figure A

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This will give you two layers in the interface to work with. Now you'll take the duplicated layer and turn it into a smart object. Doing so allows for more flexibility in your manipulation process. Go to your menu and create a smart object with Layer > Smart Object > Convert To Smart Object (Figure B). Be sure you do this with only your duplicated layer selected.

Figure B

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You'll see your layer now has a small icon on it that shows it's a smart object (Figure C). Again, this layer is used for the heavy lifting of your photo manipulation.

Figure C

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Next, navigate to the Filter menu. Select Blur > Radial Blur. This will open a dialog allowing you to set up blur intensity (Figure D). Select Zoom in the dialog box and adjust the amount to your liking. Note that the lower the amount, the less intense the blur will appear. The dialog box will display an example as you adjust the blur amount.

Figure D

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For most of my photos, I choose between 70 and 90 on the scale (Figure E).

Figure E

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Click OK after you've set your blur amount. This will make your smart object layer blur on the screen. Don't be alarmed—it's part of the plan. You'll notice that the blur created a nice zoom effect on your layer. Sadly, the center may not be lined up with your light source initially (Figure F). But correcting this is as easy as clicking on the smart object layer and double-clicking the Radial Blur option again to reopen the Radial Blur dialog.

Figure F

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In the Radial Blur dialog, adjust the center with your mouse by dragging it where you think it would be fit into your scene. In my example, I dragged it to the right half (Figure G. When it's positioned the way you want, click OK.

Figure G

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Now your scene will look more logical as it lines up with the light source. You can even see some of the light rays being created for you. Click the eyeball icon on the smart object layer to hide this layer from view. You don't need to see it at this point.

The next step is to paint in your own light or sun rays into a new layer. Select the Layer menu and create a new layer. Select your brush tool and select a color to use as paint. You should try to match your brush color closely with the light source's color. Now draw a few lines lightly onto the scene where the light or sun rays should be (Figure H). This is much easier with a Wacom tablet, but still doable with a mouse. Don't worry, your lines are going to look bad at first. That's part of the process.

Figure H

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After you've painted the prospective rays in, go back to your Filtermenu and select Radial Blur from the top of the menu. This will load onto your newly painted rays the radial blur settings you created in the smart object. You'll notice that your painted rays will soften in appearance (Figure I). You can apply the filter multiple times to your liking. Depending on the scene, I've tapped Alt + Ctrl + F on my keyboard up to 20 times before the blur softened to the level I wanted.

Figure I

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You can add more rays if you want. Just paint them onto the same layer or create a new layer. Tidy up the scene by added a Layer Mask to the working layer. This will allow you to brush away additional strokes that aren't needed or feather the painted rays a little more.

So let's compare the before and after images. Figure J shows the "before."

Figure J

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And Figure K shows the "after."

Figure K

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The sun and sky are a little more dramatic now. Have some fun playing around with the radial blur in your landscape photography. Remember you can tweak the adjustments to fit your scene. Be sure to share with me your results over on Twitter and Instagram.

Other techniques?

Do you have a favorite trick for enhancing your landscape photos? Share your advice and suggestions with fellow TechRepublic members.

Also read...

About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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