Photoshop falling snow effect tutorial

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.

Written by Steve Patterson.

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!

I'm using Photoshop CC 2021 but any recent version should work. For older versions of Photoshop, check out my original snow effect tutorial.

Here's an example of what the falling snow effect will look like when we're done:

A falling snow effect created in Adobe Photoshop
The final result.

Let's get started!

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

The document setup

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

The original photo. Credit: Adobe Stock
The original photo.

In the Layers panel, the photo appears on the Background layer, currently the only layer in the document:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the image on the Background layer
Photoshop's Layers panel.

Related: Learn how to get your images into Photoshop

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:

Clicking the Add New Layer icon in Photoshop's Layers panel.
Clicking the Add New Layer icon.

A new blank layer named Layer 1 appears above the Background layer:

Naming the layer in the New Layer dialog box.
The new layer is added.

Double-click on the name Layer 1 and rename it Snow. Then press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard to accept it:

The Layers panel showing the new Snow layer above the Background layer.
Renaming the layer Snow.

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:

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

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

Setting the Contents to Black in Photoshop's Fill dialog box.
Setting the Contents to Black.

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:

The black-filled Snow layer now hides the image
The document now filled with black.

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:

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

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

Photoshop fills the Snow layer with noise. The noise looks too 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. 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:

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

In the Options Bar, make sure the link icon between the Width (W) and Height (H) values is selected:

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

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

Scaling the width and height of the noise by 400 percent.
Scaling the width and height by 400 percent.

Then click the checkmark 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: 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:

Selecting the Free Transform command from the Edit menu
Going to Edit > 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:

Selecting the Fit on Screen command from the View menu in Photoshop
Going to View > 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:

The Snow layer is now much bigger than we need.
The Snow layer is now much bigger than the viewable area.

First, cancel Free Transform by clicking the Cancel button in the Options Bar:

Clicking the Cancel button to cancel Free Transform in Photoshop
Clicking the Cancel button.

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:

Choosing the Fit on Screen view mode from Photoshop's View menu
Going to View > Fit on Screen.

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:

Choosing the Select All command from the Menu Bar in Photoshop
Going to Select > All.

Go up to the Image menu and choose Crop:

Choosing the Crop command from Photoshop's Image menu
Going to Image > Crop.

And then remove the selection outline by going back to the Select menu and choosing Deselect:

Choosing the Deselect command from Photoshop's Select menu
Going to Select > 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:

Selecting the Free Transform command from the Edit menu
Going to Edit > 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:

Free Transform confirms that the Snow layer has been cropped
Free Transform confirms that the layer has been cropped.

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:

Clicking the Cancel button to cancel Free Transform in Photoshop
Clicking the Cancel button.

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:

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

And choose Convert to Smart Object from the list:

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

A smart object icon appears in the layer's preview thumbnail, telling us that the layer is now inside a smart object:

The smart object thumbnail on the smart object in Photoshop's Layers panel
The smart object thumbnail.

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:

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

The Screen blend mode hides all the areas of black, 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 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:

Selecting the Motion Blur filter from Photoshop's Filter menu
Going to Filter > Blur > 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:

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.

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:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the Motion Blur smart filter
Smart filters are listed below the smart object.

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:

The smart filter mask thumbnail in Photoshop's Layers panel
The filter mask thumbnail.

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:

Deleting the smart filter mask in Photoshop's Layers panel
Deleting the filter mask.

And now with the mask thumbnail gone, we have more room to see the other smart filters we'll be adding next:

The filter mask has been deleted from the Layers panel
The filter mask has been deleted.

Download this tutorial as a print-ready PDF!

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:

Adding a Levels image adjustment to the Snow smart object
Going to Image > Adjustments > 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:

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 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:

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

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:

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

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:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the Levels image adjustment applied as a smart filter
Levels is treated as a smart filter because it was applied to a smart object.

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:

Dragging the Snow smart object onto the Add New Layer icon
Making a copy of the smart object.

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:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the smart object copy above the original
The copy is added above the original.

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.

With the Snow copy smart object selected in the Layers panel, go up to the Edit menu, choose Transform, and 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 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:

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

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:

Selecting the Crystalize filter from Photoshop's Filter menu
Going to Filter > Pixelate > 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:

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

And the new snowflakes are now larger:

The snow effect after applying Photoshop's Crystallize filter
The snow effect after applying the Crystallize filter.

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:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the Crystallize smart filter applied to the snow
Crystallize is added as a smart filter.

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:

Selecting the Motion Blur filter from Photoshop's Filter menu
Going to Filter > Blur > 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:

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:

The snow effect with a second Motion Blur filter applied
The snow has really picked up in the last few minutes.

And in the Layers panel, our second Motion Blur smart filter appears at the top of the list:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the second Motion Blur smart filter applied to the Snow copy smart object
The Snow copy smart 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:

Adding a Levels image adjustment to the Snow smart object
Going to Image > Adjustments > 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:

Re-adjusting the black point and white point sliders in Levels.
Adjusting the amount and brightness of the larger flakes.

In the Layers panel, the second Levels adjustment appears at the top of smart filters list:

Photoshop's Layers panel showing the full list of smart filters used to create the snow effect
The second Levels smart filter is added.

And here, after fine-tuning the larger flakes, is my final result:

A falling snow effect created in Adobe Photoshop
The final Photoshop snow effect.

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.