Tutorial to Add Fake Snow to a Photo in GIMP

Fake Snow
pepifoto/Getty Images
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How to Simulate a Snowy Scene in GIMP - Introduction

This tutorial shows how easy it is to add the effect of fake snow to a photo using the free pixel-based image editor GIMP. I recently added a tutorial showing how to add fake rain to a photo using GIMP and I thought that demonstrating a technique for fake snow might be useful for winter photos.

Ideally, you'll have a photo of a scene with snow on the ground, but it isn't essential. Snow isn't very common in our part of western Spain, but I did get a shot of snow on an olive tree earlier this year, which I with use to demonstrate this technique.

You can see the finished effect on this page and the following pages show you the simple steps needed to reach a similar result.

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Open a Photo

If you have an image with snow on the ground, that might be a good choice, but you can produce fun and surreal effects adding fake snow to all sorts of photos.

Go to File > Open and navigate to your selected image and click on it to select it before clicking the Open button.

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Add a New Layer

The first step is to add a new layer that will become the first part of our fake snow effect.

If the foreground color in the Toolbox isn't set to black, press the 'D' key on your keyboard. This sets the foreground color to black and the background to white. Now go to Layer > New Layer and in the dialog click on the Foreground color radio button, followed by OK.

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Add Noise

The basis of the fake snow effect is the RGB Noise filter and this is applied to the new layer.

Go to Filters > Noise > RGB Noise and ensure the Independent RGB checkbox isn't ticked. Now drag anyone of the Red, Green or Blue sliders till they're set to about 0.70. Drag the Alpha slider all the way to the left and click OK. The new layer will now be covered with specks of white.

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Change Layer Mode

Changing the layer mode is as simple as you could hope for but the results are quite dramatic.

In the top of the Layers palette, click on the drop-down arrow to the right of the Mode setting and select the Screen setting. The result is quite effective as it is for the fake snow effect, but we can tweak it further.

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Blur the Snow

Applying a little Gaussian Blur can make the effect slightly more naturalistic.

Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and in the dialog set the Horizontal and Vertical inputs to two. You can use a different setting if you prefer the appearance and you may indeed have to if you're using an image of a significantly different resolution than the photo I'm using.

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Randomize the Effect

The fake snow layer is quite uniform in its density across the whole image, so the Eraser Tool can be used to fade out parts of the snow to make it appear more irregular.

Select the Eraser Tool and in the Tool Options that appear below the Toolbox, choose a reasonably large soft brush. I selected Circle Fuzzy (19) and then increased its size using the Scale slider. I also reduced the Opacity to 20. You can now paint randomly over the layer with the Eraser Tool to make some areas more transparent than other areas.

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Duplicate the Layer

The effect currently suggests quite light snow, but it can be made to look heavier by duplicating the layer.

Go to Layer > Duplicate Layer and a copy of the fake snow layer will be placed above the original and you'll see that the snow seems heavier now.

You can play with the effect further by erasing parts of this new layer or adjusting the Opacity slider in the layers palette. If you want a fake blizzard, you could duplicate the layer again.

This tutorial shows a simple but effective technique for adding a fake snow effect to a photo using GIMP. You can use this technique to give a wintry feel to all sorts of images and this could be ideal for many of your festive projects.