Recently I was contacted by SleekLens, a company out of Copenhagen, Denmark, to write a review of one of their products. SleekLens was founded in 2015 to provide easy to use Photoshop and Lightroom brushes, presets, overlays, and workflows. They also provide a variety of other media production services such as photographer templates and image editing. After looking at what SleekLens produces I agreed to do a review of a series of Photoshop overlays which they forwarded to me for a tryout. This review is limited to the Light Rays Overlays, one of nine different overlay collections offered by SleekLens.
Light Rays & Photography
Light rays are one of the most interesting yet elusive visual elements in photography. They can add both visual interest and depth to an image. Light rays can be captured in-camera or added to an image in post-processing. Light rays can be...
This post will discuss real time light ray capture and the addition of light rays using the SleekLens selection of Photoshop overlays. But first let's talk about what light rays are and how they might be used to enhance an image.
Crepuscular & Anticrepuscular | What's In A Name?
Periodically we see natural light rays in the sky. We commonly refer to these rays of light as sunbeams, sun rays, or even God rays. People have been observing these natural light rays over many millennia and so there are other names for light rays that reflect cultural, geographic, and spiritual interpretations of experiencing this natural phenomenon.
Most natural light rays are seen near the times of dawn or dusk; during the twilight hours. The Latin term for twilight is crepusculum....which is the root word for light rays visible near dusk. Below you can see an example of these light rays, known as Crepuscular rays. In this image the sun beams appear to run parallel to one another with clouds breaking up the light rays into separate shafts of light. We are most likely to see crepuscular rays when we look toward the source of light at twilight. In some more rare instances we may also see light rays directly opposite the light source at the same time. These opposite rays are called anticrepuscular rays.
Anticrepuscular light rays appear on the horizon when we have our backs to the light source (i.e., the sun). Anticrepuscular rays are not as commonly seen although I have see some looking back at dusk from Longmont into the Great Plains. Like most light rays anticrepuscular rays appear to converge to a point on the horizon. Both types of light rays seem to visually converge to a single point in the distance.
Parallel Crepuscular RaysLight rays appear as parallel sun beams along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. Image by Craig Rademacher
Given this, the image above is not your typical view of crepuscular light rays. Even so, the parallel nature of light rays in this image is the most accurate way of understanding the even flow of light from its source (i.e., the sun). Light runs away from the sun in parallel beams. However, and very importantly, it is not how we commonly see crepuscular or anticrepuscular light rays.
Our view of light rays is normally defined by something called the perspective effect. This perspective effect is the same phenomenon we see when looking down the length of a long plowed field or down a rail line. The parallel lines of the field or rail tracks seem to converge in the distance. This is why crepuscular light rays appear to originate from a single place.... it is a bit of visual trickery ... brought on by the perspective effect.
Light Ray Imagery
Capturing crepuscular rays in-camera is not difficult. You do need to place yourself in a location near twilight in order to see and then photograph these interesting light rays. The light rays are always more visible when dust or moisture is in the air. So, changing weather conditions and foggy days may be good opportunities to hunt for crepuscular rays. The image below is an example of such a time when a shaft of light seems to light a mountain bike near a trail I was hiking. This is an example of when a single visible crepuscular light ray was visible to the human eye and then captured in-camera.
Natural Light RaySingle crepuscular light ray falls on a mountain back in the the Colorado foothills.
Another way to capture beams of natural light is to use your lens to create a starburst effect. The image below provides a visual example of a starburst effect photo made in northern Michigan on an early autumn evening. To make this image I set my camera on a tripod and set the aperture to f22 (ISO 100, 2.5 sec). This small aperture creates the starburst effect in the image. This same effect can be used to create starbursts in night photography and other settings.
Starburst and Lens FlairImage shot at dusk at f22 with long exposure.
So it is clear that photographers can capture natural light rays and even produce lens flair and starburst effects from natural light sources. The key feature of using these light ray sources is to use them to enhance an image. Now let's look at how we can add light rays using artificial light overlays in Photoshop. In the following examples I will show the results of blending three original images with light ray overlays to create new visual effects.
Light Ray Overlays From SleekLens
SleekLens produces and sells a series of Photoshop overlays that permit you to add light rays in your images. They also provide tutorials on product use and even offer editing services. I tried out three different light ray overlay samples to test how these SleekLens products would enhance some of my images. In doing this I had three types of image enhancements I wanted to explore. These were to use SleekLens Light Ray Overlays to...
Example 1: Light Ray Overlay for Visual Interest
In this example I added the SleekLens Rays-6-Colour overlay to a photograph of light kissing some stalks of grass in a forest field. Image A is before application of the light ray overlay. Image B shows the overlay applied in Photoshop. You can learn how to apply overlays at SleekLens' How To section.
Image A Before Ray-6-Colour application in Photoshop.
Image A (above) shows a duller and flatter image than Image B (below) which has the SleekLens Light Ray Overlay applied in Photoshop. Image B shows improved visual interest. This is a subtle application of a light ray overlay.
Image BWith addition of Photoshop Light Ray Overlay from SleekLens.
Example 2: Making A More Dynamic Image
In this image we see Goleta Beach in California during sunset. Although the image is fine as it is, the addition of a Light Ray Overlay adds a more dynamic visual quality to the original. In this case I used the SleekLens LightRay-8-Directional in Photoshop. This included rotating the overlay to match the original scene. This is a key idea in using overlays properly...matching overlay selection and use to the original image to make the final image look authentic.
Image AOriginal image of Goleta Beach in Goleta, California.
Image A (above) is fine as is. Image B (below) has a more dynamic feel after the light ray overlay application and minor blending adjustments. This is a more purposeful use of a light ray overlay to enhance an image.
Image BSleekLens Light Ray Overlay applied to provide a more dynamic image.
Example 3: Creating Photoshop Art With Overlay
In this example I have taken an image of a location called the Devil's Backbone near Loveland, Colorado shot in the late afternoon and applied an overlay to create something that did not exist at the time. Using a light ray overlay helps create an entirely different image and perspective on the place photographed. In this before-after example I used the SleekLens Light Ray-13-Strong overlay.
Image AOriginal image of the Devil's Backbone area without an overlay.
Image A (above) without overlay seems sort of lifeless. Image B (below) with SleekLens overlay and adjustments in Photoshop seems to pop and has an exciting quality to it. The key here was to select the overlay with the best "visual fit" for the original image. Then minor adjustments to color and tone are made to create the final Photoshop art image. In this example the light ray overlay is an prominent feature of the final image.
Image BDevil's Backbone image with SleekLens Light Ray Overlay applied in Photoshop.
SleekLens Light Ray Overlays In Review
I found the SleekLens Light Ray Overlays fun and easy to use. The SleekLens website was easy to navigate and provided clear instructions on how to apply overlays, manage opacity, and color. I enjoyed working with the SleekLens overlays.
As a fine art photographer I am a bit conservative with the choice to use Photoshop overlays in general. My perspective is that the application of overlays needs to be purposeful and not just thrown on an image to provide glitz. In my examples I carefully selected original images that would likely be enhanced by the overlay application.
Keep in mind that my approach to my art work is to present photographs that reflect the spirit and authenticity of the American West. So, I choose to use overlays lightly and very selectively. You may take a less conservative approach to your art.
Overall I would recommend that readers take a look at SleekLens and their products. You just may find the help you need to create the images you envision.
Disclaimer: SleekLens provided overlays samples for use in this review. SleekLens did not provide any financial compensation for this review.