The holidays are upon us and you want to have the perfect photo but it’s just too cold, slippery, or you missed the snow all together? There are times that regardless of your will, the weather won’t allow you to go outside to shoot the photos you want. Fortunately, it’s easy to recreate a snowstorm using Photoshop to give that final touch to your image.
Select an appropriate image
First, you have to choose an image that will be believable as having been shot during a snowfall. It can be a snowed-in landscape or a holiday view like the ones I’ll use here to show you the technique. However, you can get as creative as you like. In this tutorial, I’ll teach you two different techniques to make it snow in Photoshop so you can choose which suits you best.
#1 – Snowstorm with layers
With your image open in Photoshop, duplicate it as a layer by going to Menu > Layers > Duplicate Layer. An exact copy of your image will be created on top of the original and as a default will be called Background copy. However, if you want to rename it “snow” for organization purposes just double-click the layer name.
With this new layer selected, go to Menu > Filter > Pixelate > Pointillize. In the pop-up window, you can choose how big or small you want the snowflakes to be by dragging the slider and when you’re happy click OK.
Note: Your background color should be set to white.
While on the same layer, go to Menu > Image > Adjustments > Threshold to make it monochrome. The higher the number, the less dense the snow will be and therefore it will look more real.
Layer blend mode
Once you click ok you will only see a black canvas with white spots. So to merge it with your image you need to change the layer blend to Screen; you can do this in the drop-down menu of the layers tab.
Now you need to give the snow some movement to make it look like it’s falling. For this you can go to Menu > Filter > Blur > Motion Blur. When you adjust the angle you will change the direction in which the snow will appear to be coming down. The Distance setting changes the space between the “snowflakes”. When you’re happy with it click OK.
There you have it, a digitally created snowstorm! You can adjust the opacity of the layer if you want the effect to be less intense. You can also repeat the process to create more layers and change the values of the Motion Blur to make it less homogeneous and therefore more realistic.
However, this will always be a bulk effect, if you want to do it more precisely and more controlled then follow the next set of steps in method two.
#2 – Snowfall with brush strokes
First, you need to create a personalized brush for the snow. To do that, open a new canvas with a white background and then paint some uneven circles (with a black brush) that will be your snowflakes. Make two or three in different sizes, remember that you can adjust the size of the brush in the top left menu. It’s also good to use a soft brush to avoid any hard edges.
To turn this canvas into a brush, you need to go to Menu > Edit > Define Brush Preset. In the pop-up window, you can rename it as Snow. Now you can close this document without saving it because it was already saved as a brush that you can now use on any image. Now you can open the photo in which you want to make it snow.
Paint in the snow
Having your desired scene as the background, you need to create a new layer by going to Menu > Layer > New Layer. This is where you are going to paint the snow using the new brush you just created, but first, you need to set the properties of the brush.
First click on the brush tool, choose the snow brush from the pop-up menu and set your foreground color to white. Then open the Properties window by going to Menu > Window > Brush or by pressing F5. Here you can change many things to adjust the brush to suit your needs, in this case, I did the Scattering, the Shape Dynamics and the spacing of the Brush Tip Shape, but you can play around until you’re happy.
You will always see the applied effect of what you’re doing in the preview window at the bottom right-hand side of the screen. You can also activate or turn off each of the settings with the check sign to the left of the brush preset name.
Refine the snow
To make it more realistic, go to Menu > Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. In the pop-up window, you can change the radius to soften the snowflakes.
Now you can create more layers to give the impression of depth. The snowflakes you did before form the base, think of those as being the farthest away. Then repeat the process on another layer in which the flakes are going to be closer, for that they need to be bigger, which is controlled by the brush size. You also need to show motion, so instead of the Gaussian Blur, this time, use a Motion Blur.
You can add and paint snow on as many layers as you want. Of course, you can always colorize it with some hue if your scene has a different tonal palette, adjust the layer opacity, and mix the two techniques described here in order to make your image look just right, as shown below.
Please give this a go, and share your before and after snowstorm images in the comments below.