Pictures of sun rays always speak to people as they look like they came straight from heaven. The most asked question I get though is how I create these in Photoshop, because many people can't believe they are real. I had trouble understanding how forest pictures with sun rays came about as well, because I thought I had never seen them. Having grown up in the middle of the forest, I know that I must have seen them, but took them for granted or did not register them for one reason or another. After I started photographing in the forest, I found myself hunting for sun rays, because I wanted to experience that magical light show as well. Soon I realised that I just had not seen them very often, because I simply had not been in the forest at the times that they are most likely to occur.
So... when can you expect to see rays of sunlight and how do you capture them? If you know when to expect them, you're half way there actually.
1. Check the humidity levels religiously. I have an app called Weather Pro which gives quite a good indication of the humidity levels. Sun rays only appear when the humidity levels are high and the sunlight is being filtered through leaves or branches
2. Rise early. Humidity levels often drop fast after sunrise and so your best chances on capturing sun rays is early in the morning when the humidity levels are above 90 %
3. The best times to capture sun rays is when the trees have leaves, or in a pine forest in the winter. There needs to be something that scatters the sunlight (in a sky you can only see sun rays if they are scattered by clouds). You can only see the sunbeams in one direction, more or less towards the sun. If you are facing the other way, you will not see them.
An example of a picture I took with a 24-70 lens to emphasise the sunstar effect.
4. When sun rays appear, you can use a telephoto lens to capture them (trying to move closer won't work, they will appear to evaporate the closer you get). If there are many sun rays and perhaps a sunstar as well, choose the lens that creates the nicest sunstars. Usually you can find this kind of information in lens reviews. In a case like this I always choose my 24-70 lens. A telephoto lens will compress the rays making them more obvious. A wide angle lens (or a phone camera) will not do the best job if you want eye-catching sun rays.
5. Choose a reasonably small aperture (high F number), because the sun rays are not that close to you usually and you need them to be in focus as well as your subject (most of the time trees in the foreground ) and not become blurred out. If you have your lens set to F4 or F2.8, the rays will become very vague.
If you want to learn to capture the magic of the forest; the mystical moods, misty paths, enchanting sun rays, the fairytale feel, the colourful seasons and the beautiful silhouettes and see how I edit a foggy forest picture from start to finish....please check out my new master call eBook: The Magic Of Forest Photography. It is available at a special introduction price for a limited time only