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How to Create Fog and Smoke in Photoshop

November 2021

Fog and smoke are two of the most mysterious and breathtaking phenomena to exist within our visual world. Whether it's the cold silent curtain or the simmering dance of fumes, we've all stopped to admire how they transform our environments around us. In photography, their presence alone can dramatically enhance a subject's appearance, and in today's tutorial we'll be stepping into Photoshop and exploring the three different ways that you can digitally add fog and smoke to your favorite photos.

Photoshop Technique #1: The Cloud Filter


The first editing technique we'll cover is with Photoshop's cloud filter, and to start we're going to build out a simple order of layers. Load your image into Photoshop and then create a duplicate background layer by highlighting your original background layer and using the shortcut CMD/CTRL + J. The reason we're making this duplicate is because the original background layer preserves the raw data of your image, which you never want to irreversibly alter or damage. After this, create a new transparent layer above it by selecting Layer > New > Layer and rename it to "fog." Your layer order should now look like the image below. 

Now with this initial layer setup complete we can add our fog. Select your Fog layer, press D on your keyboard (which will switch your active colors a.k.a. "foreground" and "background" colors to black and white) and then navigate to Filter > Render > Clouds

As you can see, a black and white image with randomly generated clouds will appear. The reason why the clouds are black and white is because the white parts will signify where the clouds will show in the image and the black parts will signify where they won't. This will make even more sense when we apply the next step, which is to go to fog layer's blend mode and select screen.  

The blending of the fog now looks far better, however it will still need a bit of fine tuning to make it look realistic. Lower the opacity of the fog layer to bring it within natural levels, and then create a layer mask within the fog layer.

Next, select the mask and use the brush tool to paint in more fog or to erase it away (remember the saying, "white reveals and black conceals").

You can also remove a lot of the gray, muddier mid-tones by highlighting the fog layer, pressing CTRL/CMD + Land adjusting the contrast levels. It might also look more realistic to blur the fog by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, especially if you want the fog to be out of focus. 

There's also another way to adjust the contrast for your fog layer, which is my personal preference, and that is by creating a curves layer above it and then holding the ALT button down and clicking the divider line between the curves layer and the fog layer. This creates a clipping mask which will connect the two layers and make any adjustments to the curves layer also effect the fog layer it's attached to.

And voil√†! You have now just accomplished the awesome feat of creating realistic fog with Photoshop's cloud filter! Try it out on a few more photos to get a feel for it, and also experiment with the fog's opacity and adjustment layers to see all the different ways it can appear. 

Photoshop Technique #2: Overlaying a Stock Image


The second Photoshop technique we'll talk about uses almost all of the same steps as the cloud filter process, but instead of using Photoshop's built-in cloud texture we'll be using a real, more detailed image. Go to any stock image website, like iStock, Canstock, or Shutterstock (or better yet, go to Adobe Stock and sign up for a free trial where you can get ten images for free) and download a fog or smoke picture. You can also set up a low key studio setting and make one yourself if you'd like. Just like the cloud filter process earlier though, make sure the clouds are white and the background is black (transparent can work too). 

Now let's jump back into Photoshop and build the same initial layer order as before. Make your background copy layer, place your new fog/smoke stock image above it (in my example I'm using a smoke image so I'll rename it "smoke"), change the blend mode to screen, and then adjust the contrast by pressing CTRL/CMD + L or create a curves clipping mask

For some extra color control, make a Black/White adjustment layer and clip that to the smoke layer as well to neutralize any noticeable hues. In some smoke images you can usually find blue and yellow hues hidden inside. 


You can also change the color of the fog/smoke to anything you want by clipping a solid color layer to it, choosing a color, and then selecting the multiply blend mode. 

That was pretty easy right? And I'm sure your image looks great! Not only does this editing process work for fog and smoke, but it also applies to a massive number of other textures, like fire, sparks, snow, and more. Feel free to snag some other stock images and drop them into the photo too. Just remember to use images with a black background. 

Photoshop Technique #3: Smoke Brushes

The third and final way to create realistic fog and smoke in Photoshop is with pre-made brushes. These brushes will allow you to paint the texture directly onto an image and are especially helpful for scenarios like having smoke come out of a cigarette or steam rising out of a hot cup of coffee.

To download your brushes we'll be visiting a free industry trusted website called brusheezy.com. In the search bar, type in "smoke brushes" and download whichever pack you prefer. My personal favorites are from the "real smoke" series, which have incredible detail. 

Click the "free download" box to receive a zipped folder. Open it, and then extract the single brush file found inside. 

You can save the file anywhere you would like, or you can place it in Adobe's presets folder by going to Program Files > Adobe > Adobe Photoshop > Presets  > Brushes.

Let's go back to Photoshop to try out our new brush. Open an image that you would like to work on, give it a duplicate background layer, place a new transparent player above it and rename it "smoke"and then press B to select your brush tool. 

Now open your Brush Settings Panel (which looks like a folder with a brush icon on it), go to the fly-out menu and select the Bushes tab, click on the three lines in the top right corner, and click Import Brushes...

Navigate back to where you saved your new smoke brush preset and after selecting it you'll see a new folder show up in Photoshop's brush menu. Expand that new folder and your brushes will be waiting inside!

Now you can select your brush and paint it onto your transparent smoke layer. Choose any color you'd like, and just like in the earlier techniques, you can make the smoke more realistic by masking it, adjusting the opacity, and using gaussian blur.

Conclusion

And you've done it! You've now become a master at creating fog and smoke in Photoshop. Be proud of yourself for what you've accomplished today, and as always, stay curious and keep experimenting.


Atmospherics like these can make your images more immersive and in some cases even enhance their narrative. Check out the bonus images below to see all the different ways it can be used. 


- J


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