How to Add Falling Snow to Your Photos with Photoshop
Learn how to add falling snow to your winter photos with this easy Photoshop snow effect! A step-by-step tutorial, now updated for Photoshop 2021.
Winter is my favorite time of year. But winter photography 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 scene quite like falling snow. But what do you do if it wasn't snowing? In this tutorial, I show you step-by-step how to add realistic falling snow to your photos with Photoshop!
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 with me by opening any winter image into Photoshop. I'll use this image from Adobe Stock:
Step 1: Add a new blank layer above the image
To avoid making permanent changes to the original photo, we'll create the snow effect on a separate layer.
Click the Add New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Add New Layericon.
A new blank layer named
Layer 1 appears above the Background layer:
Double-click on the name
Layer 1 and rename it
Snow. Then press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard to accept it:
Step 2: Fill the new layer with black
Next, we need to fill the new layer with black.
Go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar along the top of the screen and choose Fill:
In the Fill dialog box, set the Contents to Black, and then click OK:
Photoshop fills the
Snow layer with black. And because the
Snow layer is sitting above the Background layer, it temporarily hides the image from view:
Step 3: Apply the Add Noise filter
To create the falling snow, we'll start with Photoshop's Add Noise filter.
In the Layers panel, make sure the
Snow layer is selected. Then go up to the Filter menu in the Menu Bar, choose Noise, and then choose Add Noise:
The Add Noise filter adds random dots, or
noise, to the layer. We'll turn these dots into our snowflakes.
Set the Amount value to 25% and choose Gaussian. Limit the color of the noise to black and white by selecting Monochromatic at the bottom. Then click OK to close the dialog box:
Photoshop fills the
Snow layer with noise. The noise looks too faint but we'll brighten it up in a moment:
Snowlayer after filling it with noise.
Step 4: Increase the size of the noise
Along with being too faint, the dots are also too small. So we'll make them bigger using the Scale command.
Go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar, choose Transform, and then choose Scale:
In the Options Bar, make sure the link icon between the Width (W) and Height (H) values is selected:
Change either the Width or Height value to 400%. Photoshop sets the other to 400% to match:
Then click the checkmark to accept it:
With the dots now much bigger, they're starting to look more like snow:
Step 5: Crop away the hidden areas of the Snow layer
The only problem with scaling the snow layer so much larger is that we've also made the document's file size larger. And depending on the size of your image, this could slow down Photoshop's performance as we continue through the steps.
How to view the layer's actual size
If you go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and choose Free Transform:
Photoshop displays the transform box and handles around the contents of the
Snow layer, including any hidden areas.
If you can't see the box and handles, go up to the View menu and choose Fit on Screen:
And notice how large the
Snow layer actually is. The only part we see in the document is the small area in the center, while the majority of it extends well into the gray pasteboard area. Yet all of it, including the hidden area, is adding to the file size.
So before we go any further, we'll crop away everything we don't need to bring our file size back down:
Snowlayer is now much bigger than the viewable area.
First, cancel Free Transform by clicking the Cancel button in the Options Bar:
Then zoom back in on your image by going up to the View menu and again choosing Fit on Screen.
Or press and hold the Ctrl (Win) / Command (Mac) key on your keyboard and press the plus sign (+) a few times to zoom back in. The minus sign (-) will zoom you out:
How to crop away the hidden areas of the layer
To crop away everything on the
Snow layer that extends outside the viewable area of the document, go up to the Select menu and choose All. A selection outline appears around the document edges:
Go up to the Image menu and choose Crop:
And then remove the selection outline by going back to the Select menu and choosing Deselect:
It won't look like anything has happened. But if we reopen Free Transform by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Free Transform:
This time, the transform box and handles appear only around the viewable area of the document. Everything that was surrounding it in the pasteboard area has been cropped away:
Click the Cancel button in the Options Bar to cancel and close Free Transform, and we're ready to move on to the next steps:
Step 6: Convert the Snow layer into a smart object
Next, we'll convert the
Snow layer into a smart object. That way, any filters or image adjustments we apply to the layer will remain editable in case we want to go back and make changes.
In the Layers panel, make sure the
Snow layer is selected. Then click the Layers panel menu icon:
And choose Convert to Smart Object from the list:
A smart object icon appears in the layer's preview thumbnail, telling us that the layer is now inside a smart object:
Step 7: Change the layer blend mode to Screen
To blend the noise from the
Snow layer in with the image, change the smart object's blend mode from Normal (the default setting) to Screen:
The Screen blend mode hides all the areas of black, leaving only the white noise visible:
Step 8: 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 using Photoshop's Motion Blur filter.
Go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, then choose Motion Blur:
In 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 degrees so the snow is falling from the upper left.
Distance controls how much motion is applied. Setting the 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. Then click OK to close the dialog box:
Here's the effect after applying the Motion Blur filter. I've zoomed in on an area to make the snow easier to see:
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 and edit a smart filter's 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:
Deleting the filter mask
By default, the Layers panel adds a filter mask for the smart filters, indicated by the white thumbnail to the left of the word
Smart Filters. A filter mask is the same as a layer mask except that instead of hiding the contents of a layer, the filter mask can be used to hide the effect of the smart filter(s) from different parts of the image:
We won't be using the filter mask for our snow effect. So since we don't need that big thumbnail cluttering up the Layers panel, let's remove it.
To delete the filter mask, right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the mask thumbnail and choose Delete Filter Mask from the menu:
And now with the mask thumbnail gone, we have more room to see the other smart filters we'll be adding next:
Step 9: Add a Levels image adjustment
To reduce the amount of snow, and brighten it up at the same time, we'll use a Levels image adjustment.
Go up to the Image menu, choose Adjustments, and then choose Levels:
Step 10: Drag the black point and white point sliders
In the center of the Levels dialog box is a histogram which is a graph that shows the current tonal range of the image (or in this case, of the
Snow smart object). And below the histogram are 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:
To reduce the amount of snow, click on the black slider and slowly drag 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, click on the white slider and drag it to the left. The further you drag, the brighter the snow becomes. You'll probably need to go back and forth with the two sliders to fine-tune the results:
When the snow looks good, click OK to close the Levels dialog box.
Here's my snow effect after dragging the sliders. There are now fewer snowflakes than before, and the remaining ones are brighter:
Applying image adjustments as smart filters
Even though Levels is an image adjustment, not a filter, Photoshop still treats it like a smart filter when we apply it to a smart object. And this means that the adjustment remains editable. In fact, most image adjustments found under the Image menu can be applied to smart objects as smart filters. This feature was first added back in CC 2015.
In the Layers panel, Levels now appears above Motion Blur in the list of smart filters. So Photoshop is applying the Motion Blur filter first and then the Levels adjustment on top of it. You can reopen Levels and readjust the black and white point sliders if needed by double-clicking on the adjustment's name:
Step 11: Duplicate the "Snow" smart object
Let's add some depth to our falling snow by creating a second layer of it, this time with bigger snowflakes so they'll look like they were closer to the camera. To do that, we need to make a copy of our
Snow smart object.
In the Layers panel, click on the smart object and drag it down onto the Add New Layer icon:
A copy, with the word
copy in its name, appears above the original. And notice that it also includes a copy of the Motion Blur and Levels smart filters, so we're getting the same effect duplicated:
Step 12: Rotate the copy 180 degrees
We'll rotate the copy so that these new snowflakes are adding to the amount of snow in the photo, instead of just sitting on top of the original snowflakes.
Snow copy smart object selected in the Layers panel, go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, and then choose Rotate 180°:
With the layer rotated, the new snowflakes are still falling at the same angle as the originals. But because they are spaced out differently, we now have twice as much snow as we did before:
Step 13: Apply the Crystallize filter
To make these new snowflakes bigger than the originals, we'll use Photoshop's Crystallize filter.
Go up to the Filter menu, choose Pixelate, then choose Crystallize:
The Crystallize filter breaks an image into little sections, or “cells”, of color. And 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 when you're done to close the dialog box:
And the new snowflakes are now larger:
In the Layers panel, Crystallize appears as a smart filter above Motion Blur and Levels. If you want to try a different Cell Size value to compare the results, just double-click on the name
Crystallize to reopen the filter's dialog box:
Step 14: Apply the Motion Blur filter again
To add motion to the larger snowflakes, we'll apply a second Motion Blur filter.
Go back up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and once again choose Motion Blur:
In the dialog box, leave the Angle set to the same value. But since these new snowflakes are larger than the originals, increase the Distance to somewhere between 16 to 20 pixels, again depending on the size of your image. Then click OK when you're done:
Here's the effect with the motion blur applied to the larger snowflakes:
And in the Layers panel, our second Motion Blur smart filter appears at the top of the list:
Snow copysmart object now has two Motion Blur filters applied.
Step 15: Fine-tune the effect with a second Levels adjustment
Finally, to fine-tune the appearance of the larger snowflakes, add a second Levels adjustment by going up to the Image menu, choosing Adjustments, and again choosing Levels:
Then just like we did before, drag the black point and white point sliders to make any adjustments you need. Use the black point slider to reduce the number of larger snowflakes, and the white point slider to increase their brightness. Click OK when you're done to close the dialog box:
In the Layers panel, the second Levels adjustment appears at the top of smart filters list:
And here, after fine-tuning the larger flakes, is my final result:
And there we have it! That's how easy it is to add falling snow to your photos with Photoshop!
Did you know that the same basic steps for adding snow can also be used to create other Photoshop effects? For example, you can add rain to a photo or even add stars to your night sky! You'll find those tutorials and lots more in my Photo Effects section.