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Painting Beams of Light

This effect makes use of the fact that Lightroom has two brushes, and you can make each of the brushes a different size and switch between the two. We use that to create a transition between a small brush and a large brush, and the feathering keeps the transitions smooth. Super-easy to do, and on the right image, it’s really effective.

Step One:

Here’s the original image we want to add light beams to (this is the rear interior view of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City). We’re going to bring in a light beam from that stained glass window up in the top-left corner, but you could also bring in beams from the right, or from that round stained glass window in the back, or from some unseen window. To create our first beam, click on the Masking icon (seen circled here), in the toolbox beneath the histogram, and from the panel of tools that appears, click on Brush (or just press the K key). Now, if the sliders are not already set to zero, double-click on the word “Effect” to reset them, and then crank up the Exposure to around 2.00 (as shown here).

Step Two:

At the top of the Brush panel, we have two brushes we can use marked “A” and “B” (seen circled here in the inset). Click on the A brush, set the Feather amount to 100 (to make the edges of your brush soft), and then set the Flow amount to 100 (so we get a consistent amount of the effect we’re going to apply). Now, drag the Brush Size slider all the way to the left to 0.1 (as seen here. That is one tiny brush!). Take that tiny brush and click it once on the stained glass window in the top left of the cathedral. Your brush is so small, you won’t actually see anything, but you should see a little black Edit Pin (brush) appear in the spot where you clicked (as seen circled here). This is where our beam will start.

Step Three:

Now click on the B brush. Make sure the Feather and Flow are set at 100, but set this brush at a much larger Size (here, I set it to 14.1). Now that you have the B brush, move it over to an area on the floor, press-and-hold the Shift key (holding this makes it draw a straight line between where you first clicked on the stained glass window and your second click), and then just click once with that larger B brush. It will draw a straight line between the two spots, starting at that small size up at the window and gradually growing larger until it reaches the floor. That’s it—you have your first beam! If it looks too bright (or not bright enough), you can adjust the brightness using the Exposure slider. If you want to add more beams, do the same thing (click on Create New Mask first, at the top of the Masks panel, before you start your new beam), but there’s something else we can do to make the process of adding more beams quicker.

Step Four:

Instead of going over to the Brush panel every time we need to switch between the A and B brushes, we’re going to use a keyboard shortcut to make the process much faster. With the A brush selected, click once on the window, then press the / (forward slash) key to switch to the B brush, press-and-hold the Shift key, and click on the floor to the right or left of your original beam. So, that’s the process. Click once on the window with the A brush, press the forward slash key, then press-and-hold Shift and click on the floor, and each time you do this, it adds another beam. Three more tips: (1) It’ll look more realistic if you vary the size of each beam a bit, so change the Size of the B brush after each beam. (2) To soften the beam of light, drag the Clarity slider to the left. The farther left you drag it, the softer it gets. (3) Also try varying the Exposure amount a bit for each individual beam (as I did here).

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