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Welcome to the GIMP tutorial on adding snow to your photos! You’re in for a treat. 

You’ll learn how to add snow overlays (that you can download from here).  Plus, you’ll learn how to create your own snow brush, use it to add snow on different layers for depth, and then save it as an overlay.

Ready?  Let’s do it…

Add Snow Overlays

01

Grab a photo

OK, so the first thing we need to do is find a photo that we want to work with.

I’m not a huge fan of shooting in the snow. Or the cold for that matter. I prefer warmth.

For this GIMP snow tutorial, I’m using a stock image. The first image to the right is the opening of the GIMP video tutorial (above). However, it already has snow in it.

For this GIMP tutorial I chose the second image. Which is the one I’ll use throughout this tutorial.

Click on either image if you want to download (will take you to the stock page… no worries, its free) and practice what you learn. Or, better yet, just use 1 of your own.

The other thing you may want to consider is the context of the image that you’re using. For example, in the second photo, we have a backlit image and the sun is shining through.

So, adding snow to an image like this may not look realistic because you’re adding snow on a sunny day.

Although, I’m sure we’ve all experienced snow/rain on a sunny day! That’s a possibility.

But for a more realistic and natural type of look, especially when you’re doing composites like this, you want to make sure that what you’re adding coincides with the image that you’re using.

At the time of making this GIMP tutorial, I wasn’t able to find the perfect (free) photo. So, I just found this one real quick.

All right!

Now that I’ve explained all of that, grab a photo & let’s get started…

02

Download

Download 3 free snow overlays from my personal collection.

You’ll need these to instantly add the snow to your photos.

Once downloaded, unzip the file and you’ll find the 3 snow overlays inside the folder.  Drag and drop 1 of them onto your image (in GIMP).  Then, check out step 03…

03

Re-size

If needed, you may need to re-size the overlay to fit your image.  Here’s how…

  1. Check your ruler to determine the size of your image and locate the width.
  2. Right click on your image (make sure the snow overlay layer is selected) and select; Layer -> Scale Layer
  3. Type in the width to match your image and click Scale.  Your overlay should now match the size of your image.

04

Blending Mode

So far, you should see a lot of black and white specks (the “snow”).  But, where’s your photo?  I’ll show you…

In order to see your photo, we need to change the Blending Mode for the snow overlay layer. Make sure the snow overlay layer is still selected and then…

  • Go to your layer panel and at the top (next to “Mode” – Drop down menu says “Normal” – click on it) and change the Blending Mode to “Screen”.
  • Boom!  There’s your photo.

Using the “Screen” Blending Mode removes the black background and reveals the image below.

Some tips for customizing the snow overlay…

  • adjust the opacity, of the snow overlay layer, to blend in the snow.
  • blur the snow with Gaussian Blur: Filters  -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur  | adjust the amount to your liking
  • and/or add Motion Blur: Filters  -> Blur -> Motion Blur  |  adjust the amount to your liking
  • use your eraser tool to remove snow from unwanted places. 
  • see step 05 to learn how to remove snow non-destructively

05

Remove snow

Chances are, if you have a person or pet in the photo, snow is in places you don’t want it.

The fastest way to remove it is via the eraser tool.  However, if you make a mistake and need to fix it (after saving and closing the file), you may have to start over.

The best method for removing snow is doing so non-destructivley.  You can do this by add a Layer Mask to the snow overlay layer.  Here’s how…

  1. Right click on the snow overlay layer and select “Add Layer Mask” and make sure “White” is selected (first option).
  2. Grab your Brush tool and set the Foreground color to black and the Background color to white.
  3. Paint with black, anywhere on the image where you wish to remove the snow.  Paint with white, if you made a mistake, to bring it back.

06

Save it!

Now is as good a time as any to save what you’ve done thus far.

If you save it as a JPG file, it will flatten all the layers and you will be unable to edit the snow in the future.

Therefore, I recommend saving the file with the extension: .XCF.  This is GIMPs native file format for saving a file and keeping all the layers intact.

Next up, learning how to create your own snow brush…

Create Custom Snow Brush

07

Create a New Document

The first step to creating your snow brush is by creating a new document. 

Make your new document 800×800 and 72dpi. 

Make sure the background is filled with transparency and click OK.

08

Make Snowflakes

Next, grab your brush tool and set the foreground color to white.  The size brush I used was 300.  Also, make sure the Dynamics (in the brush tool options) is set to “none”, the brush is set to a hard edge brush (hardness 100), and the opacity is set to 100.

Click and add a snowflake to the bottom left of your new document.  Lower the brush size to around 50-100 and add another to the top right.

09

Convert to Brush

Now, you must convert this doc into a brush. Go up to File -> “Export As”. Give it a name of Snow.

Make sure the correct file type is added to the end of the file name; GBR.

Also, you must save it to the correct file location…

PC: User > User Name of Your Computer > GIMP 2.8 > Brushes

MAC: Go to Applications, and find GIMP. Right click on it, and click ‘Show Package Contents’. From there, follow this path:
Contents > Resources > Share > GIMP > 2.0  >Brushes

Click Export.

10

Access New Brush

Now select the new brush…

  1. Go back to brush options panel.
  2. Click on the refresh brushes icon:  bottom right of the panel.
  3. Your new brush will be located in the first spot of all available brushes.  It will not be visible since we didn’t attach a .png file with it.
  4. Click on the first (or second) spot of brushes and locate the brush.  The description of the brush will include the dimensions used for your new document;  800×800 in my case.

11

Natural Snowflakes?

In order to make your snow look real and natural, we’ll have to make some changes to the Tool Options.

  1. Change the brush Dynamics to “Dynamics Random”.  This will randomly add the snow for a more realistic look.
  2. Change the Aspect Ratio to + or – 1-3.  This will change the perfectly round snowflake to more oval (since snow isn’t always perfectly round).  This adds additional “randomness”.
  3. Turn on “Apply Jitter”. The higher the number the more random the snow will become.  It’s up to you on how high to set.  Experiment.

12

Snow Depth

Another method for making the snow look real is to add depth.  This can be achieved by created snow on different layers. Using layers also helps us work non-destructively.

  1. Create a new layer and make sure the background is set to Transparency
  2. Re-name the layer; Snow 1
  3. Create 2 more layers, with Transparency set, and re-name Snow 2/3.

Each layer will include snow with varying size of snowflakes and different amounts of blurriness applied.  We can even apply Motion Blur, to add to the realism and randomness.

13

Snow 1 Layer

Next up is adding the snow to the 3 layers you created.  Which will create depth to the image.

Snow falling in the foreground will be of a different size vs. the background.  Plus, the closer to the lens the larger they will become.  Distance will also effect how sharp the snow is.

For the first snow layer, create your snow with a fairly large brush.  This will be the snow falling closest to the lens.  My first snow layer consisted of a brush size around 800.

Click randomly around your photo to add the snow.  To add more snow quicker, click and drag your mouse around the image.  Add a layer mask, to remove any unwanted snow.

Then, go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur to blur your snow.  There is no right or wrong amount.  You may need to try a few different settings until you find one you like.  For the video tutorial, I set the amount to 35.

Once finished adding the snow, you could make some other adjustments.

  1. Try changing the Opacity of the snow layer to blend it in more or to make it less intense.
  2. Rotate the layer if you don’t like the positioning of the snow.  Which is better than starting over.
  3. Add more Gaussian Blur if needed.

14

Snow 2 Layer

Select your Snow 2 layer and we’ll begin adding some depth.  Create a smaller brush around 300-500 and begin adding the snow.

If needed, turn off the first layer to see the new snow better.

Try and avoid adding any snow on your subjects faces.  If some ends up there and you wish to remove it, add a Layer Mask and remove it.

Then, go back to the Gaussian Blur tool and blur it out less than before.  This snow is closer to your subject and should be in more focus.  Set the amount to around 10-15.

Another option is to add some motion blur to this layer (and the first one too if you choose).  Go to Filters > Blur > Motion Blur and set it to around 10-20.  You may need to go back and forth until you find something you’re happy with.

15

Snow 3 Layer

For the last Snow layer, create a brush size much smaller.  Let’s say around 25-100.

Apply the snow, add some Gaussian Blur and/or Motion Blur and you’re done!

Create Snow Overlays

16

Group layers

**Note: if you made any Layer Masks to remove snow, you may want to delete the Layer Masks first.  This will bring the snow back. You’ll need to do this since future photos will not have subjects in the exact same spot. 

Which also means, you may need to add snow in those places too.  Which means you may need to start over with creating snow for the purpose of using as an overlay.  Let’s go through the steps so you know how to make the overlays.**

In order to create your new snow overlays, you’ll need to Group them first.  Here’s how…

  1. Right-click on the top-most layer and select: “New Layer Group”
  2. Drag each of the 3 snow layers just under the new Layer Group.
  3. Turn off your image layer or delete.  Make sure to save your new file first before doing so.
  4. Create a new layer and fill it with Black.
  5. Now save your file as a JPG file.  This will flatten all layers and you’ll then have your new snow overlay! 

This new JPG file can then be applied just like you learned in the first section!