Create Realistic Light Beams

light rays in forest

Here’s what we’ll be making today.

Whether you want to make light rays in a forest or shining through a window, the technique is exactly the same. 🙂



Step 0: Downloading the Image

For this tutorial, we’ll be using this image of a forest. Be sure to download the photo, so you can follow along with the tutorial. Practice makes perfect! 🙂

In addition to this written guide, you can also watch our video tutorial on how to add light beams in Affinity Photo.



Step 1: Separating the Highlights

The first thing we need to do is put all the highlights in the image onto their own layer.

To do this, we’ll select the highlights by coming to Select, Tonal Range, Select Highlights.

select highlights

Then press Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC) to duplicate the selected highlights onto their own layer.

You can deselect the highlights by pressing Command D (Mac) or Control D (PC).



Step 2: Blurring the Highlights

Next, we’ll blur the highlights to create beams of light.

With the highlight’s layer selected, come to Filters, Blur, Zoom Blur.

zoom blur


Then bring the Radius up as high as it will go.

This has given a good start to our light rays, but I’d like the radius of our blur to be higher. At first glance, it appears that 100 pixels is as high as the blur will go, but we can actually make the radius even larger by typing in a number. I’m going to make mine 700 pixels.

700 pixels

By default, the Zoom Blur places the center of the zoom in the center of our document. But we want the blur to start from wherever the light source is coming from.

If you’d like the center of the blur to be placed somewhere else, just click on the part of the document that you want the blur to originate from. You can even click off of the document.

Then press Apply to confirm the blur effect.



Step 3: Brightening the Light Rays

Right now our light rays are looking a little dull. To fix this, go ahead and duplicate the light ray’s layer a few times. Press Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC) to duplicate the layer.

I recommend you duplicate the layer more times than whatever you think looks realistic. You can always lower the opacity later. I’ll duplicate my layer 7 times, so that I have 8 light layers in total.

duplicate layer

Then select all of the light layers, and put them into a group by pressing Command G (Mac) or Control G (PC).

Then right click on the group, and press Rasterize.

Now we have a single layer to work with, that includes all of our light rays. Putting all of the light rays onto one layer will make it easier to modify the light.



Step 4: Blending the Light

Our light is looking pretty good right now, but we can make a few tweaks to add even more realism.

First, change the light layer’s Blend Mode to Screen. This makes it so the light will always brighten the underlying layer (the forest), and never darken it.

Next, we’ll open Blend Ranges by pressing on the gear icon.

blend ranges


Inside the Blend Ranges dialog box, bring the node on the far right down about halfway. This stops the light rays from brightening the brightest parts of the forest. Without Blend Ranges, the highlights in the image were becoming too bright.

blend ranges



Step 5: Softening the Light

Right now, our light rays are very sharp. In real life, light rays get softer and fuzzier the farther they are from the light source.

To replicate this in Affinity Photo, we’re going to add a Gaussian Blur Filter to the light rays.

Press on the Live Filters icon, and then select Gaussian Blur.

live gaussian blur filter


Set the Blur Radius to whatever you think looks good. I’ll set mine to 4 pixels.

To keep the light rays looking sharp and crisp near the light source, but get softer the farther away they extend, we’re going to use a gradient mask.

Press on the Gaussian Blur Layer icon to select it, and then get out the Gradient Tool.

gradient mask


Now click and drag from the end of the the light rays to the light rays’ source.

Click on the grey color stop, and change its color to black in the Color Panel. This makes it so the Gaussian Blur Layer is completely hidden at the light source, but gradually becomes applied to the light rays as the gradient goes from black to white.

change gradient color



Step 6: Adding Fog

Whenever I go camping, light rays are always accompanied by fog. Let’s make some fog to add realism to our photo.

First, add a Curves Adjustment layer. You can apply a Curves Adjustment however you want, but I’m going to use the shortcut Command M (Mac) or Control M (PC), since I love keyboard shortcuts. 🙂

Then bring the bottom node about halfway up.

curves adjustment


This has added “fog” to all of our photo, but we only want fog near the forest’s floor. Let’s use our Gradient Tool to make another gradient mask.

Click and drag from the forest floor up to the sky. Hold down Shift to keep your gradient line straight. Then make the grey color stop black.

straight gradient line


Next, let’s add some texture to the fog.

To do this, make a new pixel layer by pressing on the Add Pixel Layer button.

add new pixel layer


Then we’ll add Perlin Noise by going to Filters, Noise, Perlin Noise.

perlin noise - clouds


Make sure your colors are set to black and white inside the Color Panel, and then change the settings in the dialog box to whatever you think looks good. Then press Apply.

perlin noise settings

Change the Perlin Noise layer’s Blend Mode to Overlay. Now it should add a nice layer of texture to your image.

You can mask the noise so it’s only applied to the bottom of the image (where our fog is), but I like the way it looks without being masked.



Step 7: Finishing Touches

Let’s enhance the colors in our image with a Levels Adjustment.

You can apply a Levels Adjustment by pressing Command L (Mac) or Control L (PC).

Bring the Black Level to 5%, and the White Level to 98%. This adds a little more punch to our image.

Then come to the Red Channel, and increase the Black Level to 5%. This adds cyan to the shadows in our image, which I think looks quite nice.

levels adjustment


Now we just need to lower the opacity of any layers that we think are a little too heavy handed. I’ll lower the Opacity of my Curves to 60%.

light rays in forest

And now we’re done! You now know how to make realistic light beams in Affinity Photo.