How to Add Falling Snow to Photos with Photoshop
Learn how to create a snow effect in Photoshop and add falling snow to your winter photos. A step-by-step tutorial for Photoshop 2023 or earlier.
Winter is my favorite time of year. And nothing adds to a winter photo quite like falling snow. But trying to capture snow falling can be a challenge. And what do you do if it wasn't snowing? Thankfully, Photoshop makes it easy to create your own snow effect so you can add the snow later, and I walk you through the steps in this tutorial.
I'm using Photoshop 2023 but any recent version will work. You can get the latest version of Photoshop here.
Here's an example of what the falling snow effect will look like when we're done:
Let's get started!
The document setup
You can follow along by opening any winter image into Photoshop. I'll use this image from Adobe Stock:
Step 1: Add a new layer above the image
We need to add a new blank layer above the image. So click the Add New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
Then double-click on the new layer’s name and rename it
Snow. Press Enter on a Windows PC or Return on a Mac to accept it.
Step 2: Fill the layer with black
We need to fill the new layer with black. So go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and choose Fill.
In the Fill dialog box, set the Contents to Black and click OK.
Photoshop fills the layer with black and hides the image from view. We'll bring the image back in a moment.
Step 3: Add noise to the layer
To create the snow, we’ll start by adding some noise to the layer. Go up to the Filter menu, choose Noise, and then Add Noise.
In the dialog box, make sure Gaussian and Monochromatic are selected. Then set the Amount to around 25 percent and click OK.
Photoshop fills the layer with noise which will eventually become our falling snow.
Step 4: Scale the noise
But one problem is that the noise is too small. So lets scale it by going up to the Edit menu, choosing Transform and then Scale.
In the Options Bar, make sure the link icon between the Width and Height fields is selected.
Then change either the Width or the Height to 400 percent.
Click the checkmark to accept it.
And now the noise is starting to look more like snow.
Step 5: Convert the Snow layer into a smart object
To help the noise look even more like snow, we're going to apply a few filters to it. But before we do, let’s convert the Snow layer into a smart object. That way, the filters will be applied as smart filters which will keep their settings editable.
With the Snow layer selected, click the Layers panel menu icon.
Then choose Convert to Smart Object.
A smart object icon appears in the lower right of the thumbnail.
Step 6: Blend the noise with the image
To blend the noise in with the image, change the blend mode of the smart object from Normal to Screen.
The Screen blend mode hides the black areas on the layer and leaves only the white noise visible.
Step 7: Add motion to the snow
To make the snow look like it's falling, not frozen in time, go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur and then Motion Blur.
In the dialog box, set the Angle to the direction you want the snow to be falling from. You can change the angle by rotating the dial or you can enter a specific value. I’ll set the angle to -65 degrees.
Distance controls how much motion is applied. But if we increase the distance too much, the effect looks more like rain than snow. So lower values work better. I’ll set it to 10 pixels. Then click OK to close the dialog box.
And now the snow has a bit of motion to it.
Viewing and editing smart filters
Since we added the Motion Blur filter to a smart object, Photoshop applied it as a smart filter. And in the Layers panel, the smart filter appears listed below the smart object.
You can reopen a smart filter's dialog box and edit the settings at any time by double-clicking on its name. But even if you don't need to edit the settings, it's still nice to see a list of all of the filters we've added. We'll be adding more as we go along.
Deleting the filter mask
Also notice that Photoshop added a layer mask, or in this case a filter mask, for the smart filters which is that big white thumbnail that's taking up a lot of space.
We could use the mask to hide the filters from different parts of the image. But for our snow effect, we don’t need it. So let’s remove it and free up the space by right-clicking, or Control-clicking on a Mac, on the thumbnail and choosing Delete Filter Mask.
Step 8: Reduce and brighten the snow
To reduce the amount of snow and brighten the snow at the same time, go up to the Image menu, down to Adjustments, and choose Levels.
Then to reduce the number of snowflakes, click on the black point slider below the left side of the histogram and begin dragging it to the right. As you drag, you’ll see the darker snowflakes begin to disappear, leaving only the brightest flakes visible. I’ll set the value to around 25.
Then to brighten the remaining snowflakes, click on the white point slider below the right side of the histogram and drag it to the left. When you’re done, click OK to close the dialog box.
Applying image adjustments as smart filters
Notice that even though Levels is an image adjustment, not a filter, it still appears as a smart filter below the layer. That’s because we applied it to a smart object. So if you need to, you can double-click on its name to reopen the dialog box and make whatever adjustments you need.
Step 9: Make a copy of the snow
At this point, we have our initial snow effect. But let’s add some depth to it by adding a second snow layer, this time with larger flakes so they’ll look like they were closer to the camera.
In the Layers panel, make a copy of the Snow smart object by dragging it down onto the Add New Layer icon.
The copy appears above the original, along with a copy of our smart filters so we don’t need to reapply them.
Step 10: Rotate the copy
Let’s rotate the copy so the new snowflakes are not just sitting on top of the originals by going up to the Edit menu, down to Transform, and choosing Rotate 180 degrees.
Step 11: Apply the Crystallize filter
Then to make the new snowflakes larger than the originals, go up to the Filter menu, down to Pixelate, and choose Crystallize.
Increase the Cell Size at the bottom to somewhere between 10 and 20. I’ll go with 15. Then click OK to close the dialog box.
One drawback with the Crystallize filter is that we can't see the result until we close the dialog box. But because we applied to a smart object, it appears listed in the Layers panel as a smart filter. So if the snowflakes are now too big, or not big enough, double-click on the filter's name to reopen the dialog box and adjust the Cell Size as needed.
Step 12: Apply the Motion Blur filter again
The only problem with the larger flakes is that they don’t have any motion applied to them. So go back to the Filter menu, back to Blur, and once again choose Motion Blur.
Leave the Angle the same as before so the snow is falling in the same direction. But because these flakes are bigger, increase the Distance to around 20 pixels. Then click OK.
Step 13: Reduce and brighten the larger snowflakes
Finally, let’s reduce and brighten these larger flakes by adding one more Levels adjustment. Go back to the Image menu, back to Adjustments, and choose Levels.
Then just like we did before, drag the black point slider to the right to reduce the number of flakes, and drag the white point slider to the left to brighten the ones that remain. Then click OK to close the dialog box.
And we're done! Here, after adjusting the sliders, is my final falling snow effect.
And there we have it! But did you know that the steps for adding snow can also be used to create other effects? Check out these related tutorials to learn how to add rain to your image, or how to add stars to your night skies! And don't forget, all of these tutorials and more are now available to download as PDFs!