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If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that it snows regularly, you won’t need to fake it in Photoshop. In Ireland, however, it’s snowed properly twice in the last decade. Thankfully, faking it is easy.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to take a regular image and turn it into an awesome snowy scene. I’m using the photo of my dogs from a previous article.
1. Creating Snow on the Ground
Let’s start by adding fallen snow on the ground. Although it was cold when I took my picture, there certainly wasn’t any snow around.
Create a new layer (Control-Shift-N or Command-Shift-N) and call it something like Snow I. Fill the layer with white. If you’ve got the default color swatches (press D if you don’t) active, you can do it by pressing Control-Backspace or Command-Delete.
Ta da! You’ve got a really snowy scene.
Obviously, you’re now just looking at a white canvas so we need to blend the snow in with the image. Double-click on the snow layer. That’ll bring up the Layer Styles dialog.
We’re going to use Blend If to make it so the white layer only covers certain areas of the image.
Drag the black triangle for Underlying Layer to the right until you start to see some dark details appearing on the ground.
Hold down Alt or Option and click on the black triangle to split it. Drag to the right to adjust how the two layers are blended together.
Play with the split black triangle until you get something that looks good. Only worry about one area of the image at a time; I’m focusing on the ground underneath the dogs.
When you’ve got something that looks good, click OK and then add a layer mask to the snow layer. You can use either the Pen tool, Brush tool, or Quick Select tool to select out the areas you want snow to appear. I looked at masking in more depth in my article on how to make someone levitate. You should end up with something that looks like this.
Keep adding snow layers until you’ve covered all the ground you want. If things look too intense, or you want to reduce how much snow appears on the ground, dial the layer opacity back. I added two more snow layers to the mountains in the background.
2. Creating Falling Snow
Now that we’ve got the snow on the ground, it’s time to add some falling snow.
Create a new layer, call it Falling Snow, and fill it with black. You should still have the default swatches so press Alt-Backspace or Option-Delete to do it.
Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise. Set the Amount to 100%, the Distribution to Gaussian and make sure Monochromatic is checked.
Next, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian and enter a Radius value of around 3.0.
After that, go to Image > Adjustments > Curves. The keyboard shortcut is Control-M or Command-M. Create a curve that looks something like the one below. For more on curves, check out my article on adding brightness and contrast to your images. Now things should look a lot more like falling snow.
To blend the falling snow with the rest of the image, change the layer Blend Mode to Screen.
Add a layer mask and mask out any snow that interferes with the subject of the image. I’ve just painted a bit of black at low opacity in front of the dogs’ faces so you can see them better.
If you want, you can add a small amount of Gaussian blur to the snow particles so they look like they’re falling. You can also add some Motion Blur. To make things look more like a blizzard, duplicate the snow layer a couple of times and move and transform them. You’ll get something that looks like this, although it’s way too much for my image.
3. Finishing Off the Image
With the snow on the ground and falling from the sky, the image is mostly done. There are just a few small changes to make to tie everything together.
When it’s snowing, the world tends to look flat and colorless. To emulate that, add a Hue/Saturation layer and dial the Saturation back. I covered how to do that in my article on correcting common color problems.
Finally, to make everything look extra cold, add a Gradient Map adjustment layer with a gradient that goes from a dark blue to an icy blue. Change the Blend Mode to Color and lower the layer’s Opacity to 10%. The full walkthrough of that technique is in my article on creating the cinematic look in Photoshop.
And with that, you’re done. You’ve taken a regular image and turned it into a snowy scene. It’s a great technique to use when you make a Christmas card.
I love this technique. It’s simple to use but creates an incredibly realistic snowy scene. It’s perfect for trying out over the holiday season if you don’t live somewhere it snows. Now, you can have a white Christmas, even if you live in Australia.
If you’ve any questions, or suggestions for techniques you’d like to see me cover, please leave them in the comments.