How to Add Light Rays in Affinity Photo

by Jan 16, 2023Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Add Light Rays in Affinity Photo

In this tutorial, we look at how to add light rays to an image in Affinity Photo. There are several ways to do this, but we will be using the Pen Tool to draw the light rays.

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When deciding to add light rays to an image, it’s important to first choose the right type of image. For example, it wouldn’t look right if you try to add rays to an image of a summer day with a clear blue sky. It’s much better to choose an image where light rays might occur naturally, like in a foggy woodland scene.

You can see the starting image below that I chose for this tutorial.

Starting image before adding light rays showing a misty woodland

With an image like this, it’s easy to believe that we might see light rays as the sun breaks through the mist.

Select and Configure the Pen Tool

With the chosen image open in Affinity Photo, the first step is to select and configure the Pen Tool ready to draw our light rays.

You will find the Pen Tool in the Tools Palette on the left of the Photo Persona interface. It has an icon that looks like the nib of a fountain pen as shown here.

Selecting the Pen Tool in the Affinity Photo Photo Persona

After selecting the Pen Tool in the palette, you will see its controls appear in the toolbar along the top of the interface. Here we need to change three settings which you can see indicated in the following screenshot. You should also check that your “Fill” setting for the Pen Tool is turned off. Mine is turned off in this screenshot.

Pen Tool settings in Affinity Photo ready to draw the light rays

First change the colour of the stroke (1) to be white. You do this by clicking the swatch and selecting white using the colour wheel.

Next change the width of the stroke line (2). You can do this by clicking the width control to the right of the Stroke colour swatch. A setting of 25pt is a good starting point but the best width depends on the size of your image. This will all become clear shortly.

Finally, set the mode (3) to draw a straight line between two points. This is the selected icon in the screenshot.

Drawing the Light Rays

When you use the line mode and click on the image with your mouse, it sets the start of the line. Then move your mouse to the end and click a second time to draw the line. You can now draw a series of lines which all meet at the same point.

Drawing the light rays with the Pen Tool

Here you can see several lines that have been drawn using the Pen Tool. Notice that each line is on a separate layer in the Layers Studio Panel.

You should also notice that all the lines are the same thickness. This would never happen in nature, so we should really vary the thickness of our lines as we draw them. Don’t worry if you forget to do this because you can change them at any time. You only need to click the layer in the Layers Studio Panel to select a line. Then with the Line Tool active, change the width of the Stroke in the toolbar.

Continue drawing lines of varying thicknesses until you feel you have enough light rays. We now need to group all the line layers together in the Layers Studio Panel. You can do this by clicking the top line layer to select it and then whilst holding down your shift key click the bottom line (be sure you don’t include the bottom image layer in error).

When you have the layers selected, click the Group icon at the bottom of the Layers Studio Panel to add the layers to a group. Here’s what it should now look like.

Light ray lines grouped together

Now it’s time to produce the light rays effect from the lines.

Blur the Lines to Produce Light Rays

To produce our light rays effect, we need to apply a blur to the group using a Live Filter Layer. This has two benefits, the first being that we can apply the layer to the group rather than individual lines. The second is that it maintains editability so that we can continue to refine the effect. Not only can we continue to refine the filter’s effect on the group, but we can also continue to add more lines to the group and adjust the width of the existing lines.

But before we can apply our filter, we need to find the centre of the image. That’s because the filter we will use is a radial blur, which acts from the centre of the image. If we don’t have our lines on the centre of the image, the filter will bend them.

Finding the Image Centre

To find the centre of the image we will add a vertical and horizontal guide. You can do this by selecting Guides… in the View menu. This will then display the Guides dialog as shown below.

Adding Guides to the image

The Guides are arranged into two sections being Horizontal and Vertical which you can see on the left of the dialog. To add a new Guide to the image, click the Add Guide icon below each section. You can see these indicated by the red arrows in the image.

Click the icons to add a Horizontal and a Vertical guide. These are added at the midpoint on each axis. Then where they cross is the centre of the image. After that you can close the dialog.

Now we know where the centre of the image is, we can position the centre of our lines over it. To do this, click the Move Tool in the Tools Palette and then click the Lines Group in the Layers Studio Panel to select it. You will then see a blue bounding box appear around the group of lines.

Click on the centre of the box with your mouse and whilst continuing to hold down the mouse button, drag the lines into position over the centre of the image. You can then release the mouse button to drop the lines in position.

Positioning the centre of the light rays over the centre of the image

Adding the Radial Blur

Now we can add our Radial Blur to the Lines Group.

With the Lines Group selected in the Layers Studio Panel, click the Layer menu. In the Layer menu select “New Live Filter Layer” then Blur and then Radial Blur… This adds a Radial Filter Live Layer to the Group and displays the filter dialog.

Applying the Radial Blur filter to produce the light rays

You can now move the Angle slider in the dialog to blur the lines which produces the light rays. It’s also possible when using the dialog to click on the image to set the centre point for the radial blur. I didn’t tell you this before because I wanted to explain how to use the Guides. They can be incredibly useful.

You can now clear the Guides from the image by opening the Guides dialog again and then deleting both guides.

Next, using the Move Tool, click the Group in the Layers Studio Panel to show the blue bounding box around the light rays. You can then click using the Move tool to drag the light rays into position on the image. It’s also possible to resize and rotate the layers by clicking and dragging the edges of the bounding box.

Refine Your Light Rays

When you have your light rays in the correct position on the image, you can refine the effect. Two useful options are:

  1. Change the opacity of the Group to control how strong the effect appears.
  2. Apply a Layer Mask to the group and then paint on it with a soft black brush to hide areas of the light rays.

You can see the finished effect in the screenshot below.

Finished image showing Light Rays

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There are several ways to add the effect of light rays to an image in Affinity Photo. The technique described in this tutorial remains simple, effective and is extremely flexible. You may need to experiment a little with the settings initially, but because it’s entirely non-destructive, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Now whilst we used the Pen Tool in this tutorial to draw our light rays, did you know that it can be used to create selections. In this tutorial, I explain how to use the Pen Tool to create amazingly accurate selections of a building.

More Affinity Photo Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Affinity Photo Tutorials page.

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