Starburst Overlay Review Photoshop Overlays Photoshop Overlays is a photography company that specializes in presets and overlays for both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. They recently asked if I would be interested in reviewing some of their Photoshop overlays. I have to admit, I've never made much use of overlays in my workflow. The photographer side of me believes that everything should be captured in camera and that adding foreign elements to an image after the fact crosses the line from photography to graphic design. However, the business side of me understands that at the end of the day, if you're shooting for a client, the end product is the most important thing. In that light, I believe overlays are an invaluable tool to have at your disposal and may be the thing that saves your butt when you book your first big client and something goes wrong during the shoot. 

From light rays to snow and rain, SleekLens has overlays that can really give your photos that extra layer of atmosphere and make them stand out. I spent a few minutes comparing them before eventually settling on their starburst package. 

Starbursts as you may know, are the star-like effect created by light diffracting as it hits your lens. They should not be confused with light rays, which are caused by light traveling through air that is filled with visible artifacts and particles (smoke, mist, dust, etc). Starbursts can be created naturally in camera by shooting directly into a light source, but in my own experience, this process can by somewhat hit-or-miss. 

Natural Starburst captured in-camera over the Greenbelt in Austin, Texas

Sample Gallery Front Page

After downloading the package, I opened the folder to find 16 Black & White starbursts and 8 colored ones as well as a PDF with sample images to help show how to best utilize your new overlays. I was surprised that there were no written instructions included to inform me of how to seamlessly add these starbursts to my images. I consider myself a pretty capable Photoshop user but still had no idea what blending mode I needed or if that was even Sleek Lens' preferred method of application. After a quick search on their website, I came upon some simple instructions here:

included sample image with overlay

included sample image with overlay

Adding a starburst overlay is pretty simple and straightforward and SleekLens breaks it down into 5 basic steps.

  1. Resizing
  2. Choosing Blend Mode
  3. Coloring
  4. Changing Opacity
  5. Applying Layer Mask (If Necessary)

Before you do anything, though, you need an image to add a starburst to. As luck would have it, when SleekLens contacted me I was just finishing up a 6-month road trip to photograph America (AKA I had a ton of unused photos to choose from). 

Backlit tree in Oregon

The first photo came from Oregon. I had loved this shot of a backlit tree when I was there, and loved the way it looked in my camera, but I was having trouble in my post-production workflow. When enlarged on my Macbook Pro, the energy of the shot seemed to dissipate and I couldn't figure out how to remedy this. If any photo could use something to give it a little more punch, it was this one.

I opened my folder of starburst overlays and tried a few out. Something I quickly learned is that not every starburst works in every photo and I encourage you to try out a few for each image until you're satisfied. I ultimately went with Starburst-12, as I wanted something that complemented the golden mist in the air.

Folder of various starburst overlays



After opening Starburst-12 in Photoshop, the next step was pasting it onto my image so I could resize and reposition it (*I actually found it easier to change the blend mode first, but for the sake of simplicity I will go in the order suggested by SleekLens). 

Starburst image pasted on top of my photo

To resize your starburst, first make sure your starburst layer is selected, then from the top menu, choose - Edit>Transform>Scale

Grab a corner and drag until your image is resized to your satisfaction. To maintain your starburst's original dimensions, press and hold SHIFT before clicking.

Select - Edit>Transform>Scale to resize your starburst

Resized and repositioned starburst


Our next step is to change the blending mode. SleekLens recommends trying SCREEN, COLOR DODGE, and/or LINEAR DODGE. I found that SCREEN was my preferred choice in most cases, but by all means try out various other ones and see what happens. 

To change your blend mode, click on the pulldown menu labeled "NORMAL" in your layers pallette and choose SCREEN.

Changing your blend more in the layers pallette

Image with blend mode changed to SCREEN


Next, we need to change the color of our starburst effect. The easiest way to do this is by adding a HUE/SATURATION ADJUSTMENT LAYER. You can do this by selecting from your top menu bar - LAYER>NEW ADJUSTMENT LAYER>HUE/SATURATION or by selecting the new adjustment layer button at the bottom of our layers palette. 

Adding a HUE/SATURATION ADJUSTMENT LAYER from the top menu bar

Adding a HUE/SATURATION ADJUSTMENT LAYER from the layers pallette

To ensure that our adjustment layer only effects our starburst and not the rest of the photo, simply Option-Click (for Mac Users) or Alt-Click (PC) on the line dividing our adjustment layer and our starburst layer. This will lock the two layers together, ensuring that only our starburst is colorized by our Hue/Saturation Layer. 

Starburst with HUE/SATURATION ADJUSTMENT LAYER added and locked together. *Blend mode set to NORMAL to highlight effect

By double clicking on our hue/saturation adjustment layer, we can open the hue/saturation menu and adjust the color. Simply click on the box marked COLORIZE and adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness until you are satisfied. 

Hue/Saturation menu 

Starburst with HUE/SATURATION ADJUSTMENT LAYER added and blend mode set to SCREEN


SleekLens recommends adjusting the opacity. I found this to be necessary on a photo-by-photo basis only and opted to leave my opacity at 100% for this shot. However, if you do wish to change your opacity, simply select your starburst layer and click the drop-down arrow marked opacity in the top-right of your layers palette. Move the slider to the right or left to adjust opacity, you can also type in an exact percentage by clicking in the box marked 100%.

Adjusting the Opacity in the layers palette 


Our final step is to add a LAYER MASK to better integrate our sunburst into our image. Layer masks are an invaluable tool in Photoshop's arsenal. They use values of grey to assign different levels of transparency to your images with white being opaque and black being completely transparent. To put it more simply, if I have a layer with a white layer mask assigned to it and paint half of it black, the side that is painted black will reveal the image below it. If I grabbed my paint bucket tool and filled the black portion with white, we would only see the layer with the layer mask attached and none of the layer below it. 

With your starburst layer selected, simply click the LAYER MASK button at the bottom of your layers palette. You will see a white box appear to the right of your starburst layer. Because, our layer mask is white, nothing will appear to change. However, if we select a black paint brush and paint over our starburst, it will begin to disappear as the black reveals the layer below it. 

Image with white layer mask added

ABOVE - The Layer Mask button (circled) at the bottom of your layers panel. RIGHT - The layer's panel with a layer mask (circled) applied to the starburst layer

By selecting our tree layer and using the MAGIC WAND TOOL [W], We can easily make a selection around the outside of the tree. Hit Command-Shift-I (Control-Shift-I for PCs) to inverse our selection and with a black brush paint in the tree area. You can check your work by Option (Alt) Clicking on the layer mask. This will reveal our mask represented by only values of Grey (or in this case, black-and-white). You can also hit the \ key to see the non-white parts of your mask represented in values of red. 

By painting the tree selection in with black on your layer mask, you are essentially erasing the light rays from the areas you don't want them in and creating a much more visually impressive and cohesive image. 

Option (ALT) Click your Layer Mask to see it in values of grey

With Layer Mask Disabled

Hit the \ Key to black values of your mask in shades of red

With Layer Mask Enabled

Once my starburst was adequately masked in, I finished the image by adjusting the contrast and overall warmth a bit more.

Original Image

Final Image

Cade's Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cade's Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park w/ Starburst

The photo and the starburst need to work in conjunction with one another.

Sometimes, a starburst is better used to complement what is already there, as is the case with this photo of Mesa Arch in Utah. If you look closely you'll see that the image already has a natural starburst that was captured in camera, however it's very weak and almost blends in to the point of being nonexistent (this was more due to my post processing workflow than a problem with my camera). However, by very quickly cloning out the original starburst and adding one from SleekLens on top of it, I am able to revive this photo and give it the starburst it deserves. 

Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park, Utah

All in all, I was very pleased with the starburst package from SleekLens. Overlays are something that were previously not in my photographic toolbox and it was fun getting to learn how to utilize them. All of the photos I played with were landscape shots, but I could see myself using these starbursts in everything from architectural photography to portraiture. The possibilities are endless.

You can find out more about SleekLens' overlays here:

or check out their main site here:

I hope this review was informative and helped open some eyes to the creative value of adding overlays to your workflow.