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How to Create Snow in Photoshop





Crafting Snowflakes in Digital Imagery


In my journey of graphic design and image modification and retouching, I've found that simulating snow in graphics can add beauty and a whole new vibe to a scene. I believe it involves a blend of creativity and technical prowess.


For this tutorial, I work on a photo that I picked from https://unsplash.com





Possible pre-requisite: Changing the Sky


If the sky in your image is too bright or Blue, adding snow will not be as realistic. In this case, we can change the sky to make it look darker and more Greyish.


- I use Magic Wand Tool (W) to select only the sky. If the whole sky is not selected with one click, I click on different areas of the sky to make sure the whole sky is selected.





- I open Hue/Saturation under Image > Adjustments (or by pressing Ctrl + U). Then I lower both Saturation and Lightness to minus numbers to get a darker and Grey sky, and click on OK.







Now, let’s begin the process of generating snow.


Step 1: Laying the Foundation


- Initially, I create a fresh new layer at Layer > New > Layer (shortcut: Ctrl-Shift + N), which I then paint over with Black using Paint Bucket Tool (shortcut: D, followed by Alt-Backspace).





- I continue with Filter > Noise > Add Noise (I set the amount to 100), followed by a visit to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (I set the Radius to 2). It's important to remember that the snowflake's size is directly proportional to the Gaussian Blur's radius - the larger the radius, the larger the snowflakes.







Adjusting for Realism


- Post-noise and blur application, I invoke the Curves adjustment panel at Image > Adjustments > Curves (shortcut: Ctrl + M) where a gray, pyramid-like graphic awaits.





This is where the magic of contrast adjustment happens, transforming the layer into a snowy vista.


- I pull the left handle to the pyramid's base and pull the right handle towards the center.


- I add a new handle in the middle and drag it down which morphs the layer into a wintry scene.





- I rename the layer to "Snow".





- I change the layer’s Blending Mode to “Screen” that integrates the snow seamlessly with the background.





Applying an important Trick:


- I duplicate the Snow layer three times, so I will have a total of 4 similar layers. I will let you know why this is important later.





Step 2: Enhancing Diversity


In nature, snowflakes move and vary in size and direction, a diversity I replicate by resizing techniques multiple times with varied settings. This randomness is further enhanced by adjusting the Motion Blur settings across different layers, tweaking angles and distances to simulate the natural chaos of falling snow. Layering these diversified snow effects creates a rich, dynamic snow.


Depending on the artwork's scale, resizing the snow layer might be necessary to ensure the snowflakes' appropriate fit.


- I click on the Snow layer, then go to Edit > Free Transform (Control + T). I double the size of the layer by setting the Width and Height percentage to 200. Look how it changes the size of the snowflakes.





- I repeat the same with the other 3 “Snow copy” layers, but for each one I set a different number for the Width and Height percentage. This way, I will have snowflakes with different sizes. In my case, I use 180, 150, and 120.


Since all the Snow layers are placed exactly over each other, we need to move them around a bit, so we can have snowflakes spread around the whole image in a more realistic way.


- I click on each “Snow copy” layer and move it using Move Tool (V).


- To elevate the realism, I apply a subtle Motion Blur (Layer > Blur > Motion Blur) to each Snow copy layer separately. I am cautious to keep the “Distance” parameter moderate to avoid a rain-like appearance. For each layer, I set a different Angle and different Distance, so I can have snowflakes moving in different directions with different speed.





Step 3: Refining the Storm


When layers accumulate, the scene might overly resemble a blizzard. To dial down the intensity, we can apply masks.


- I apply a mask to the Snow layer by clicking on Snow layer and then clicking on Add vector mask button.





- Then I render clouds (Filter > Render > Clouds).





- I do a Curves adjustment to sharpen the contrast (Image > Adjustments > Curves and make an S-shaped curve). This not only softens the snow's impact but also introduces an element of randomness.





- I repeat this (Step 3) for the Snow copy layers too. You can do it to only one or two Snow copy layers, depending on how much Snow you like to have in the scene.





The Final Result:





Masks offer the flexibility to manually refine the scene, like removing snowflakes from obstructing crucial details or foreground subjects, ensuring the final composition is both realistic and visually coherent.


Throughout these steps, my personal experiments and projects have taught me the importance of balance, detail, and adaptability in creating digital snow that bring winter scenes to life with authenticity and artistic flair.


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