Golden Light Sunlight Effect in Photoshop Elements Without Plug-Ins

Golden Sunlight Effects

 Pixabay, licensed under Creative Commons 

There are tons of plug-ins out there for adding the look of golden sunlight to your photos. Whether it is a dramatic golden hour type glow or a more subtle wash of golden light, almost all of the tutorials out there call for using a purchased plug-in to create the effect. You don’t need a costly plug-in to create the look of golden sunlight.

In fact, creating these looks are incredibly simple once you know the process. We'll be covering two ends of the spectrum of the golden sunlight look. Once you know these two versions you can easily make minor adjustments to create whatever look you desire.

This tutorial is written using PSE12 but should work with any version that includes gradient mapping.

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Creating a Diffused Golden Sunlight Effect in Photoshop Elements

Diffused Golden Sunlight Starting Image screenshot


Like the majority of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements tutorials, this one starts by creating a new layer. In this case, we need a new blank layer. You can rename the layer or not as you prefer. Don’t worry about adjusting layer blend style right now; we will do that in a bit.

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Adjust the Gradient Settings

Adjusting the Gradient Settings screenshot


This is the most difficult step of the process and it is still incredibly simple if you take it one click at a time.

  1. With the new blank layer active/selected, click on the gradient tool. Do not use an adjustment layer for this; the options you need are not available that way.
  2. Make sure reverse is not checked. Click on the far right shape option that looks similar to a star.
  3. Click edit under the color box on the far left. This brings up the gradient editor. Click the first option on the far left. Now you will see a color bar at the bottom of the gradient editor.  Click the small box on the far right under this color bar.  This allows you to change the color of that end of the gradient.  Click the color box on the left and select black. Click OK.

Now click the small box on the far left under the color bar. Click the color box on the left and select an orange color. The exact color is not super important as you can always change it with a hue/saturation adjustment if you need to.  However, you can duplicate my color choice by entering the numbers shown in the blue circle ​in the example photo. Click OK and your gradient bar should look like the example.  Click OK again to finalize choices.

That’s it, now we’re ready to apply the color.

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Apply the Golden Light

Apply the Golden Light screenshot


With the blank layer still active and your gradient tool selected, click somewhere in the top right quadrant of your image and drag far outside the photo itself at a downward diagonal to the right. The result should be similar to the example photo. The shorter bright line on the lower right follows where you dragged your mouse a moment ago.

If the starburst is not large enough, don’t worry, you can simply click on the gradient and then use the outside handles to drag and resize the shape until it is how you want it.

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Finalizing the Effect

Finalizing the Golden Sunlight Effect screenshot


Now, making sure your gradient layer is still active, use the layer blending drop-down menu to select screen. This will make the gradient transparent and brighter. Adjust the opacity to around 70% and your effect will be complete. If the effect does not reach as far across the photo as needed, simply use the resizing handles and make the gradient larger again until it looks like you want.

Continue on to learn how to create a strong golden sunlight effect.

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Creating a Strong Golden Sunlight Effect in Photoshop Elements

Starting Image for Strong Golden Sunlight Effect screenshot


To create a strong golden sunlight effect such as a sunrise or sunset at the golden hour, we will use almost the exact same settings and process except for the final adjustments. Follow steps 1 and 2 on the version above and then move on to step 6 for the changes.

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Applying the Color

Gradient for Strong Golden Sunlight Effect screenshot


In the previous version, we created a large starburst gradient.  For this version, we only need a starburst about half that size. Begin your gradient draw at roughly the same spot as before in the upper right quadrant and drag the mouse down and to the right again. However, this time release the mouse button once you are approximately equal with the bottom of the photo.

The result should be similar to the example photo.  Remember you can resize and rotate the gradient layer if you need to do so.

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Finalizing the Strong Golden Sunlight Effect

Finished Photo with Strong Golden Sunlight Effect screenshot


For this version, we’ll leave the layer blending at normal and opacity at 100%. Our adjustments will be with a hue/saturation adjustment layer. Create a hue/saturation adjustment layer and when the adjustment menu opens look in the bottom left of the menu. Make sure that the hue/saturation adjustment layer is set to only apply to the layer directly below it, not all layers.

Now, increase the saturation and lightness until you have a photo drenched in the golden light of a bright sunrise.

Both effects are achieved with very simple gradient adjustments. You can create further versions by using a red and a gold instead of gold and black, changing layer blending styles, and other minor adjustments to levels.