Photoshop Snow Effect Tutorial

How To Add Falling Snow With Photoshop

Don't let Mother Nature leave you out in the cold with your winter photography. Learn how to add your own falling snow to your photos with this easy to create Photoshop snow effect! A step-by-step tutorial for Photoshop CC and CS6.

Written by Steve Patterson.

In this tutorial, we'll learn how to add falling snow to your winter photos with Photoshop! Winter is my favorite season. But outdoor photography in winter can be a challenge, and not just because the cold plays havoc on your camera batteries (and your ears). Nothing adds to the beauty of a winter landscape like falling snow, but Mother Nature doesn't always agree. Thankfully, she doesn't have to. Photoshop makes it easy to add snow to your photos even if it wasn't snowing when you shot them. All it takes is a couple of filters and adjustment layers to gain control over nature and add falling snow to any winter scene. Let's see how it works!

I'll be using Photoshop CC but every step is fully compatible with Photoshop CS6. If you're using an earlier version of Photoshop, you'll want to follow along with my original Photoshop Snow Effect tutorial.

Here's the image I'll be using (girl in winter forest photo from Shutterstock):

Cute little girl leading big draught horse and small dog by the forest in winter. Image 128681366 licensed from Shutterstock by Photoshop Essentials.com
The original photo.

And here's what the Photoshop snow effect will look like when we're done:

Photoshop weather effects - snow.
The final result.

This tutorial is from our Photo Effects series. Let's get started!

Get all of our tutorials as print-ready PDFs!

How To Add Falling Snow To A Photo

Step 1: Add A New Blank Layer Named "Snow"

If we look in the Layers panel, we see the original image sitting on the Background layer. Let's begin creating our snow effect by adding a new blank layer above the image. Press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard and click the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the New Layer icon in the Layers panel.
Holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and clicking the New Layer icon.

The Alt / Option key tells Photoshop to pop open the New Layer dialog box where we can name the new layer before it's added. Name the layer "Snow", and then click OK to close the dialog box:

Naming the layer in the New Layer dialog box.
Naming the new layer "Snow".

Photoshop adds our new "Snow" layer above the Background layer:

The Layers panel showing the new Snow layer above the Background layer.
The new blank "Snow" layer is added.

Step 2: Fill The New Layer With Black

Fill the new layer with black by going up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and choosing Fill:

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

In the Fill dialog box, set the Contents option at the top to Black, and then click OK:

The options in the Fill dialog box.
The Fill options.

Photoshop fills the "Snow" layer with black. And because the "Snow" layer is sitting above the Background layer, the black temporarily hides our photo from view:

The document showing the black-filled Snow layer.
The document now filled with black.

Step 3: Apply The Add Noise Filter

To create the falling snow, we'll use Photoshop's Add Noise filter. Go up to the Filter menu in the Menu Bar, choose Noise, and then choose Add Noise:

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

This opens the Add Noise dialog box. The Add Noise filter adds a bunch of random dots (noise) to the layer. These dots will become our snowflakes. Set the Amount value to 25%. In the Distribution section, choose Gaussian. Then make sure Monochromatic at the very bottom is selected, which will limit the color of the noise to just black and white. Click OK to close the dialog box:

Selecting the Add Noise filter in Photoshop.
The Add Noise filter options.

Photoshop fills the "Snow" layer with noise. The noise looks a bit faint, but we'll brighten it up in a moment:

The image after filling the Snow layer with noise.
The "Snow" layer after filling it with noise.

Step 4: Increase The Size Of The Noise

Along with being too faint, the dots are also too small. Let's make them bigger using Photoshop's Scale command. Go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar, choose Transform, and then choose Scale:

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

In the Options Bar, click the small link icon between the Width (W) and Height (H) values. This will link Width and Height together so that changing one will automatically change the other:

Clicking the link icon between the Width and Height options in the Options Bar.
Linking the Width and Height together.

Change the Width value to 400%. Photoshop sets the Height to 400% to match:

Changing the width to 400%. Photoshop changes the height to match.
Changing the Width and Height to 400 percent.

Click the checkmark in the Options Bar to accept it:

Clicking the checkmark in the Options Bar.
Clicking the checkmark.

With the dots now much bigger, they're starting to look more like snow:

The noise is now larger after scaling the layer.
The noise after scaling it by 400 percent.

Step 5: Change The Layer Blend Mode To Screen

Another problem with the noise is that it's completely blocking our photo from view. To fix that, change the blend mode of the Snow layer from Normal (the default setting) to Screen:

Changing the blend mode of the Snow layer to Screen.
Changing the "Snow" layer's blend mode to Screen.

The Screen blend mode hides all the areas of black on the layer, leaving only the white noise visible:

The result after changing the Snow layer's blend mode to Screen.
The result after changing the "Snow" layer's blend mode to Screen.

Step 6: Apply The Motion Blur Filter

To make the snow look like it's falling, not frozen in time, we'll add a bit of motion to it. For that, we'll use Photoshop's Motion Blur filter. Go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, then choose Motion Blur:

Selecting the Motion Blur filter from the Filter menu in Photoshop.
Going to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.

This opens the Motion Blur dialog box. First, set the Angle to the direction you want the snow to be falling from. You can enter a value directly or you can rotate the dial. I'll set the angle to -65° so the snow is falling from the upper left. The Distance option controls how much motion is applied. Setting Distance too high will make the snow look more like rain, so use a low value of between 8 to 12 pixels depending on the size of your image. Click OK when you're done to close the dialog box:

The Motion Blur dialog box.
Adding motion and direction to the snow.

Here's the effect after applying the Motion Blur filter. I've zoomed in on an area to make the snow easier to see:

The snow effect after applying the Motion Blur filter.
The snow now looks more like it's falling.

Step 7: Add A Levels Adjustment Layer

Next, we'll reduce the amount of snow, and also brighten it up at the same time, using a Levels adjustment layer. Click the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon while holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac).
Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

Choose Levels to add a Levels adjustment layer above the "Snow" layer:

Adding a Levels adjustment layer to the document.
Choosing a Levels adjustment layer.

Step 8: Create A Clipping Mask

We need the Levels adjustment layer to affect only the "Snow" layer, not the original image. To do that, we'll create a clipping mask. Click the menu icon in the upper right corner of the Layers panel:

Clicking the Layers panel menu icon in Photoshop
Clicking the Layers panel menu icon.

Choose Create Clipping Mask from the list:

Creating a clipping mask from the Snow layer
Creating the clipping mask.

This clips the adjustment layer to the layer directly below it so that only the "Snow" layer will now be affected:

The Layers panel showing the Snow layer as a clipping mask
The Levels adjustment layer is now clipped to the "Snow" layer.

Related: How to use Clipping Masks in Photoshop

Step 9: Drag The Black Point And White Point Sliders

The options and controls for the Levels adjustment layer appear in Photoshop's Properties panel. In the center of the panel is the histogram, a graph showing the current tonal range of the image (or in this case, of the "Snow" layer). If you look directly below the histogram, you'll find three sliders. There's a black point slider on the far left, a white point slider on the far right, and a midtones slider (the gray slider) in the middle. You can ignore the gray midtones slider. All we need are the black and white ones:

The black point (left) and white point (right) sliders below the histogram.
The black (left) and white (right) sliders below the histogram.

To reduce the amount of snow, click on the black slider and begin dragging it to the right. Keep an eye on your image as you drag and you'll see the darker areas of snow becoming even darker, and eventually disappearing completely. Then, to brighten up the remaining snow, and increase its overall contrast, click on the white slider and begin dragging it to the left. The further you drag, the brighter the snow becomes. You can go back and forth with the two sliders to fine-tune the results:

Dragging the black point and white point sliders in Levels.
Dragging the black point and white point sliders.

Here's my snow effect after dragging the sliders. There's now less snow than there was before, and the remaining snow is brighter:

The snow effect after dragging the Levels sliders.
The effect after reducing and brightening the snow.

Step 10: Duplicate The "Snow" And Levels Layers

Let's add some depth to our Photoshop snow effect by creating a second layer of snow, this time with bigger snowflakes so they'll look like they were closer to the camera. To do that, we'll need to make a copy of both our "Snow" layer and the Levels adjustment layer above it. The adjustment layer is already selected in the Layers panel. To select the "Snow" layer as well, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard and click on the "Snow" layer. Both layers are now highlighted:

Selecting the top two layers in the Layers panel.
Holding Shift and clicking the "Snow" layer to select both layers.

Click and drag the two layers down onto the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Making a copy of the Snow and Levels layers
Dragging both layers at once onto the New Layer icon.

Release your mouse button and Photoshop adds a copy of both layers above the originals. The copies have the word "copy" in their names:

The Layers panel showing the copies of the Snow and Levels adjustment layer.
A copy of the "Snow" and Levels layers appear above the originals.

Step 11: Select The "Snow copy" Layer

Click on the "Snow copy" layer to select it. This will also deselect the adjustment layer above it:

Selecting the Snow copy layer.
Selecting the "Snow copy" layer.

Step 12: Rotate The Layer 180°

Let's rotate the "Snow copy" layer so that these new snowflakes are adding to the amount of snow in the photo, not just sitting on top of the originals. Go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, then choose Rotate 180°:

Choosing the Rotate 180 degrees command from the Transform menu.
Going to Edit > Transform > Rotate 180°.

With the layer rotated, the copied snowflakes are still falling at the same angle as the originals. But because they're spaced out differently, we now have twice as much snow as we did before:

The snow effect, now with twice as much snow.
The snow effect after rotating the layer.

Step 13: Apply The Crystallize Filter

We need to make these new snowflakes bigger than the originals. We could just scale the layer again, but let's try something different. This time, we'll use Photoshop's Crystallize filter. Go up to the Filter menu, choose Pixelate, then choose Crystallize:

Selecting the Crystalize filter from the Filter menu.
Going to Filter > Pixelate > Crystallize.

This opens the Crystallize dialog box. The Crystallize filter breaks an image into little sections, or “cells”, of color. We adjust the size of the cells with the Cell Size option at the bottom of the dialog box. A value of 10 to 20 usually works well for this effect. Since my image is fairly large, I'll go with the higher value of 20. Click OK to close the dialog box:

Photoshop Crystallize filter dialog box.
Setting the Cell Size value in the Crystallize dialog box.

Photoshop may need a few moments to complete the effect, but when it's done, the new snowflakes will appear larger than the originals:

The effect after applying the Crystallize filter.
The snow effect after applying the Crystallize filter.

Step 14: Apply The Motion Blur Filter

To add motion to the larger snowflakes, go back up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and once again choose Motion Blur:

Reselecting the Motion Blur filter
Going back to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.

In the Motion Blur dialog box, leave the Angle set to the same value as last time. But since these new snowflakes are larger than the originals, increase the Distance value to somewhere between 16 to 20 pixels, again depending on the size of your image. Click OK when you're done:

Increasing the Distance value in the Motion Blur dialog box.
Using a slightly larger Distance value this time.

Here's the effect with the motion blur applied to the larger snowflakes:

Photoshop snow effect with motion blur applied
Better get home soon, the snow has really picked up in the last few minutes.

Step 15: Re-Adjust The Levels Sliders

Finally, to fine-tune the appearance of the larger snowflakes, click on the "Levels 1 copy" adjustment layer above the "Snow copy" layer to select it. To make sure you select the layer itself, not its layer mask, click on the small histogram icon:

Selecting the copy of the Levels adjustment layer
Clicking the histogram to select the "Levels 1 copy" adjustment layer.

Just as before, the controls for the adjustment layer appear in the Properties panel. Drag the black point and white point sliders left or right to make any adjustments you need. Reduce the amount of snow with the black slider and increase the brightness with the white slider. This time, we're affecting only the larger snowflakes on the "Snow copy" layer. The originals (on the original "Snow" layer) are not affected:

Re-adjusting the black point and white point sliders in Levels.
Only the "Snow copy" layer is affected this time by the sliders.

And with that, we're done! Here, after fine-tuning the larger snowflakes, is my final "Photoshop snow effect" result:

Photoshop weather effects - snow.
The final Photoshop snow effect.

And there we have it! That's how to easily add snow to a photo with Photoshop! Did you know that the same basic steps for adding snow can also be used to create other Photoshop effects? Learn how to easily add rain to a photo or even add stars to your night skies with Photoshop! Or visit our Photo Effects section for more Photoshop effects tutorials!

Be the first the know when new tutorials are added!