How to Add Smoke Effects to a Photo

By Rianne Hill Soriano
You need image-editing software to put smoke effects on a photo.

Image-editing programs allow you to create smoke effects on photos that don’t originally have smoke elements on them. There are actually many smoke-creation techniques that can be used for the process. Some may include incorporating a separate smoke image on the main photo, while some require using simple image-editing tools to create smoke effects from scratch. For a basic smoke effect on a photo, producing one requires knowledge on the various tools offered by your preferred image-editing program.

Open your picture in your image-editing program.

Create a layer that will contain the smoke and another layer that can serve as a black background for easier viewing of your white smoke. Set the black layer on top of your original photo’s layer, then the smoke layer on top of the black layer.

Set the “Paint Bucket” tool with a black color using the color palette, then click on your image canvas. Make sure you have the black layer as your default layer. This creates a black background on the black layer's entirety. This temporarily covers your original photo and helps you make your smoke more visible as you finalize the appearance.

Use the smoke layer as your default layer. Draw the shape of the smoke using the program’s “Lasso” tool. This tool allows you to draw a free-form outline of your intended shape on your default layer.

Select the white color on your color palette, then use any tool that can put color inside the outline you made with the “Lasso Tool.” These tools may be “Paint Bucket,” “Brush” or “Shape.” The tools may slightly vary in name and location depending on the image-editing program used.

Decrease the “Opacity” or “Fill” of your smoke layer. This will make the white shape of your smoke turn grayish.

Use the “Gaussian Blur” effect under your program’s “Filter” or “Effects” menu. A significant amount of this blur effect makes the shape look more smoke-like.

Use the “Sponge,” “Dodge,” “Burn” and other blending tools to add lines and directions to the smoke. Explore the best look for your photo by making the black layer invisible, then have the original photo placed just below the smoke layer. You will already see the effect of the smoke layer on your photo. You can always put back the black layer on visible mode if you need it to further make the details and definitions of your smoke’s movement and direction. If need be, use more “Gaussian Blur” on your smoke layer to help create a more-defined smoky texture to the photo.

Remove the black layer after finalizing your smoke effect or you may simply keep it as an invisible layer.

Tip

You can further experiment on the other tools and functions available in your image-editing program in order to improve the smoke effect on your picture. These may include the use of the “Transform” buttons including “Distort,” “Scale,” “Rotate” and “Perspective.” You can also explore the “Smudge,” “Clone” and “Healing Brush” to finalize the look of your smoke effect.

About the Author

Rianne Hill Soriano is a freelance artist/writer/educator. Her diverse work experiences include projects in the Philippines, Korea and United States. For more than six years she has written about films, travel, food, fashion, culture and other topics on websites including Yahoo!, Yehey! and Herword. She also co-wrote a book about Asian cinema.