In this tutorial I will show you how to turn an overcast day into a stunningly dramatic scene with sunlight breaking through the clouds. This technique can be used for other applications as well. I originally came up with it when I needed to create shafts of light coming through a canopy of trees. The best part of this technique is that the beams are created from the actual imagery so they look very realistic. Lets get started…
Before & After:Here’s the photo we’re working with
Step One:Duplicate the Background photo layer by dragging it to the New Layer Icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Name it ‘Light Beam Base’.
With that layer selected hit CMD + M (or CTRL+M on PC) to apply a curve to it. Apply a harsh curve to it so that we have maximum contrast in the clouds with small areas that go completely white. I am focusing on the area on the top third of the frame slightly to the left. These white areas are going to be where our beams of light come out of the clouds.
Step Two:Turn off the Light Beam Base layer and select the Background layer. Select the Polygonal Lasso tool (L). Set the Feather to 50 in the Properties bar at the top of the screen.
Step Three:Turn on and select the Light Beam Base layer. In the toolbar select the Single Row Marquee tool. Zoom in on one of the white areas of the clouds and click once in the middle of it. This selects a single row of pixels across the image.
Step Four:Turn off the ‘Light Beam Base’ layer. Select the ‘Beam 1′ layer. Hit CMD+T to Free Transform the layer. Grab the bottom center handle and stretch is all the way down to about where the boat sits. Now while holding CMD drag the same handle to the right so it sits just under the boat. Now while holding CMD+SHIFT drag the bottom left and right handles outward until you get a shape that you like.
Step Five:Set the ‘Beam 1′ layer’s blending mode to Screen on the layer palette.
Hit CMD+M to apply a curve to the layer. Darken the layer way down until the beams of light start to show up.
Step Six:With the mask still selected, hit G for the Gradient tool. Click on the gradient preview in the top left of the screen and set it to the black to white gradient if it isnt already set. Set the gradient mode to Multiply on the Properties Bar.
Drag from the top of the beam to the bottom. Before you click anything else go to Edit > Fade Gradient. Fade it down to about 50%. This creates a falloff on the beam but we use the Fade function so it doesn’t completely disappear at the bottom.
Step Seven:Select the Background layer. Select the Eliptical Marquee tool. Click and drag directly on the boat, while holding down the mouse button hold ALT and make a narrow ellipse at the base of the beam.
Hit Q to enter Quick Mask mode. Go Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use 5 as the radius. Go Filter > Blur > Motion Blur and make the angle 0 and the distance 150. Hit Q to exit Quick Mask.
Step Eight:I just want to add a little contrast to the image as a whole. To do that, put a curve at the top of the layers palette and just add some contrast.