Add realistic snow in Photoshop

Falling snowflakes are a great way to make your winter photos more interesting. Sometimes the weather does not meet us, however, you must turn to Photoshop for help in order to complete the task. In this tutorial, I will show you how to create a realistic effect of falling snow in Photoshop, and also show you how to apply this effect to photos.

Final result

Source materials:
You will need the following source image to complete this lesson. If you do not want to buy this image, then you can use any other alternative image.

1. Change the sky

Step 1

Open the stock image of the Model in Photoshop. In the first step before starting work, you must back up the original image, so you can always go back to the original material if something happens. To do this, double click on the source layer to unlock it. Name this layer ‘Backup’.

Next, duplicate the layer by pressing the keys (Ctrl + J) (or go Layer – Duplicate Layer (Layer> Duplicate Layer). Name the duplicate layer ‘Background’. Finally, add a layer fill, for this we go Layer – New Fill Layer (Layer> New Fill Layer). Choose a dark gray tint, place the fill layer between the two layers.

Step 2

The problem of photographs that were taken in the winter, it is very often on them depicted a dull gray sky. To get a more interesting result and make our snow more visible, for this we must replace our existing sky. You can skip this step if you are working with your original image, where visually there is already an interesting sky.

First, select the tool Magic wand (Magic Wand Tool (W) and, while holding the (Shift) key, create a rough selection around the sky image. Click on various parts of the sky to highlight the sky. Next, go Layer – Mask Layer – Hide Selected Area (Layer> Layer Mask> Hide Selection) to add a layer mask.

Being on the layer with the girl, go to the tab Properties (Properties) in the layers palette and select the option Edge mask (Mask Edge) (note that this tab is available in Photoshop, in version CS6 or higher). Using the option Refine mask (Refine Mask), you can paint over the selected image to clarify the edges of the mask. Before you begin, you will need to choose the size of the brush in the top panel of the brush settings. You can also choose View mode (View Mode) and set the color to black, thus making it easier to see the processing area.

Next, paint over the trees and the horizon to soften and refine the edges of the mask. Once you have done this, play with the settings to find the appropriate value to refine your mask.

In conclusion, you can reduce the size of the brush, further zoom in, carefully paint over the outline of the edges of your selection to hide the white blotches.

Step 3

As soon as you have finished working with the mask, we can add a new sky to the background. In this case, we use a gradient to create a clear sky, but if you want, you can always use sky stock photos. First we need to create a layer with Gradient Fill (Gradient Fill).

Go to the fill layer with a dark gray fill, and then through the bottom toolbar, select the option Gradient (Gradient). When the gradient fill settings window appears, set the angle of the gradient to 90 °. Next, double-click on the gradient to make the window appear. Gradient editor (gradient editor). Set the colors of the gradient, which are shown in the screenshot below, click OK.

Next, we will add several layers to combine the new sky with the background. First, create a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N). Choose a tool Brush (Brush Tool (B), set a dark blue tint (# 303850). Paint over the trees. Name this layer Color tone (Hue) Change the blending mode for this layer to Color tone (Hue), reduce the layer opacity to 35%.

Further, to further combine the trees with the sky, we will add a light haze. Create a new layer, select the tool. Brush (Brush Tool (B), hold down the (Shift) key and draw a straight line along the horizon line. Double-duplicate the layer, press the keys (Ctrl + T) to activate the tool Free transformation (Free Transform), increase the scale of duplicate layers vertically.

Reduce the opacity of all three layers to 20%. Call them ‘Haze’.

Since smoke is located in the background, it should not cover the legs of the girl. To fix this, select the Color ’layer and the haze layers, and then press the keys (Ctrl + G) to group them into one group. Next, to the created group, add a layer mask, for this we go Layer- Layer Mask – Show All (Layer> Layer Mask> Reveal All). Next, using a hard black brush, paint over the girl’s image to hide the haze.

2. Create Snowflakes

Step one

The standard snow making method is filter mating. Add noise (Add Noise) and filter Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur). Let’s start by creating a new layer (Ctrl + Shift + N), then fill this layer with black color (press the (D) key and then (Alt + Backspace), then go Filter – Noise – Add Noise (Filter> Noise> Add Noise). Next, go Filter – Blur – Gaussian Blur (Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur). Note that the higher you set the blur radius, the more snowflakes there will be.

Next, press the keys (Ctrl + M) to activate the correction Curves(Curves). In the window that appears, you will see a gray histogram shaped like a pyramid.

Now you can adjust the contrast to make the effect look like snow. To do this, pull the left anchor point to the lower left point of the pyramid, and the right anchor point to the middle. Next, click the middle of the curve to add a new anchor point, and then pull the new anchor point down. You should have the following effect.

Name the snow layer ‘Snow’. Change the layer blending mode with snow to Lightening (Screen) to combine with the whole scene.

Further, depending on the size of your working image you are working with, you can change the scale of the snow layer to fit the snowflakes to your scene. In my case, I doubled the scale of the snow layer using the tool Free Transformation (Free Transform) (Ctrl + T).

To make the snowflakes look more realistic, we will add a small Motion blur (Motion blur). For this we go Layer – Blur – Motion Blur (Layer> Blur> Motion Blur). Apply the settings shown in the screenshot below. Be careful not to overdo it, do not set the value too high. Offsets (distance), otherwise, the snow will be like rain.

The result should be as in the screenshot below.

Step 2

So we could finish the lesson at this stage, but the result looks a bit boring and unrealistic. This is because all our snowflakes are the same size and move in the same direction, which never happens in real life.

In fact, the key to making the picture more interesting and alive is randomness. To do this, we will repeat the effect we have just created, and each time we will vary the radius Gaussian Blur (Gaussian Blur), and also change the scale of the layer with snowflakes.

It is also very important to use different filter settings. Motion blur (Motion Blur) for layers with snowflakes. As you can see, in my case, I reduced Angle (Angle) and increased Bias (Distance) pixels.

In the screenshot below, you can see 4 different layers with the effect of snow, which I created, as well as the result, which was the result of combining all 4 layers.

Step 3

The problem when combining a large number of layers can be a result of the fact that there will be a lot of snow. If you have conceived to create a snowstorm, then this is great, otherwise, you will have to soften the effect a little. To do this, add a layer mask to the snow layer. Make sure the mask layer is active, then go Filter – Rendering – Clouds (Filter> Render> Clouds). Press the keys (Ctrl + M) to activate the correction. Curves (Curves), set the curve as an S-shape to enhance the contrast.

Another advantage of using masks is that you get a more arbitrary result when you apply them to a large number of layers.

You can also manually hide specific areas of the image using a layer mask. In our case, on one of the layers there are very small snowflakes. This means that they look as if they fall somewhere far away, therefore, they should not be in front of the girl.

I fixed it with a black brush, painting it over the corresponding area on the layer mask. This action is also very useful if, for example, individual large snowflakes cover important details of your picture, for example, human eyes and spoil the view.

Step four

We can also create a bokeh effect to mimic snowflakes that fell on a camera lens, or simply to add bokeh to our scene. To do this, create a new layer, then draw a really big white spot in the middle of the scene. Choose a tool Move ( Move Tool (V) by moving this spot to the corner of the picture, and also positioning it so that it does not hide the object of your picture.

Repeat the whole process several times until you are satisfied with the result. Next, add a soft layer to each layer. Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur), set the opacity of the layers with a bokeh effect of 10%.

Name these layers ‘Boke’. Put all these layers inside the new ‘Snow’ group.

3. Color correction

Step one

As soon as we finish creating the snow, we can make a color correction to make our picture more interesting, and also to combine all the elements of the composition together. In the first step, we will add a blue tint to create a cool atmosphere. Add a new adjustment layer Gradient Map (Gradient Map) on top of all other layers through the bottom toolbar. In the gradient editor window, set a dark blue and light blue tint, click OK.

Duplicate the adjustment layer twice. Gradient Map (Gradient Map). Change the blending mode for each adjustment layer to Color tone (Hue), Chromaticity (Color) and Soft light (Soft Light) respectively. Set the opacity for all layers to 10% plus or minus.

You can also add a new adjustment layer. Curves (Curves) to enhance the contrast a bit.

Step 2

In this step, we will add a vignette effect to highlight our main character a little. First create a new layer. Choose a tool Rectangular area (Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), create a rectangular selection in the center of the image. Next, press the keys (Ctrl + Shift + I) to invert the active selection, and then go Editing – Run Fill (Edit> Fill) and fill the active selection with a dark blue tint (# 222838). Next, apply a large radius. Gaussian blur (Gaussian Blur), and also play with the scale of the layer until you are satisfied with the result.

Name the vignette layer ‘Vignette’, change the blending mode for the vignette layer to Multiplication (Multiply), layer opacity 50%.

Step 3

When working with this photo, I also added a new adjustment layer. Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation) and played a little with shades of red so that the leaves on the ground create a very beautiful contrast with the blue tint of the whole picture. Switch to the layer mask of the adjustment layer. Hue / Saturation (Hue / Saturation) and using a soft black brush, hide the effect of the correction on the hair and on the skin of the girl.

Finally, group all adjustment layers into one group. Name the new group ‘Correction’.

Step four

Our image is ready, but we can add individual details to make the picture more expressive. First, if you have Photoshop version CS6 or higher installed, you can add an effect. Blur aperture (Iris Blur). To do this, you first need to select all the layers, press the keys (Ctrl + J) to duplicate them, and then go Layer- Merge visible (Layer> Merge Layers) to merge duplicate layers into one layer. Next, go Filter – Blur – Blur Aperture (Filter> Blur> Iris Blur) and play with the settings to get a beautiful blur effect.

Being on the same layer, we can apply the filter Sharpness (Sharpen), for this we go Filter – Sharpen – Smart Sharpen (Filter> Sharpen> Smart Sharpen). Since I work with large image sizes, then I used a 4px radius, but you have to reduce the radius value if you work with a small image. The main idea here is refinement.

If you missed something in the lesson, then in the screenshot below, you can see how the layers palette should look like.

You can go back to the backup and compare with your final result to see the difference.


In this tutorial, I showed you how to add realistic falling snow to a photo using the effect Noise (Noise) and Gaussian Blur (Gaussian Blur). I hope that you have learned something new today, and will also be able to use this technique to add realistic snow to your photos.

Final result

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