How to add snow to your photo in Photoshop

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.

Written by Steve Patterson.

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:

Photoshop falling snow effect.
Falling snow added in Photoshop.

Let's get started!

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

The document setup

You can follow along by opening any winter image into Photoshop. I'll use this image from Adobe Stock:

The image that the snow effect in Photoshop will be applied.
The original image.

In the Layers panel, we see the image on the Background layer, currently the only layer in the document:

The Layers panel in Photoshop.
Photoshop's Layers panel.

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.

Adding a new blank layer above the image
Clicking the Add New Layer icon.

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.

Renaming the new layer to Snow.
Renaming the new layer Snow.

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.

Choosing the Fill command from the Edit menu in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Fill.

In the Fill dialog box, set the Contents to Black and click OK.

Setting the Contents to Black in the Fill dialog box
Setting the Contents to Black.

Photoshop fills the layer with black and hides the image from view. We'll bring the image back in a moment.

The result after filling the Snow layer with black
The result after filling the Snow layer with black.

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.

Opening the Add Noise filter in Photoshop
Going to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

In the dialog box, make sure Gaussian and Monochromatic are selected. Then set the Amount to around 25 percent and click OK.

The Add Noise filter settings
The Add Noise filter settings.

Photoshop fills the layer with noise which will eventually become our falling snow.

The result after applying the Add Noise filter
The result after applying the Add Noise filter.

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.

Choosing the Scale command in Photoshop
Going to Edit > Transform > Scale.

In the Options Bar, make sure the link icon between the Width and Height fields is selected.

The link icon between the Width and Height in the Options Bar
The Width and Height fields need to be linked.

Then change either the Width or the Height to 400 percent.

Increasing the Height of the noise to 400 percent
Scaling the noise by 400 percent.

Click the checkmark to accept it.

Clicking the checkmark to close the Scale command
Clicking the checkmark.

And now the noise is starting to look more like snow.

The result after scaling the noise
The result after scaling the noise.

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.

Opening the Layers panel menu
Opening the Layers panel menu.

Then choose Convert to Smart Object.

Choosing the Convert to Smart Object command.
Choosing the Convert to Smart Object command.

A smart object icon appears in the lower right of the thumbnail.

The smart object icon.
The icon confirms that the layer is now a smart object.

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.

Changing the blend mode of the Snow layer to Screen.
Changing the blend mode to Screen.

The Screen blend mode hides the black areas on the layer and leaves only the white noise visible.

The snow is now blending with the image.
The image returns after changing the blend mode.

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.

Opening the Motion Blur filter in Photoshop.
Going to Filter > Blur > 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.

The Motion Blur filter settings.
The Motion Blur filter settings.

And now the snow has a bit of motion to it.

The result after adding motion to the snow.
The result after applying the Motion Blur filter.

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.

Smart filters are listed below the smart object in the Layers panel.
Smart filters are listed below the smart object.

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.

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the filter mask for the smart filters.
Photoshop adds a mask for the smart filters by default.

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.

Deleting the smart filter mask.
Deleting the 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.

Adding a Levels image adjustment.
Going to Image > Adjustments > 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.

Dragging the black point slider to reduce the amount of snow.
Dragging the black point slider to reduce the amount of snow.

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.

Dragging the white point slider to brighten the snow.
Dragging the white point slider to brighten the remaining snow.

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.

The Levels image adjustment appears as a smart filter.
Image adjustments are treated like smart filters when applied to a smart object.

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.

Making a copy of the Snow smart object.
Dragging the smart object 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.

The copy of the smart object is added above the original.
The copy includes a copy of the smart filters.

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.

Rotating the copy of the snow by 180 degrees.
Going to Edit > Transform > Rotate 180°.

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.

Opening the Crystallize filter in Photoshop.
Going to Filter > Pixelate > 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.

Increasing the Cell Size in the Crystallize filter in Photoshop.
Increase the Cell Size to make the snowflakes bigger.

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.

The Crystallize filter is added as a smart filter.
The Crystallize filter is added as a smart filter.

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.

Choosing the Motion Blur filter again.
Going to Filter > Blur > 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.

Adding more motion blur to the larger snowflakes.
Increasing the Distance to add more blur to the larger flakes.

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.

Adding a Levels image adjustment.
Going to Image > Adjustments > 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.

Reducing and brightening the larger snowflakes with the sliders in the Levels dialog box.
Reduce and brighten the larger flakes with the sliders.

And we're done! Here, after adjusting the sliders, is my final falling snow effect.

Photoshop falling snow effect.
The final 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!