Adding Smoke to an Image in Photoshop in 6 Easy Steps

Adding Smoke to an Image in Photoshop in 6 Easy Steps

Regular contributer John Short submitted the following photoshopping post on adding smoke to an image (click to enlarge example images).

Thought you might like a new imaging technique to make smoke.

1. The first job is to set the foreground and background colors to white and mid grey

Start 1-1

2. Duplicate the layer, draw the shape of the smoke area with the lasso tool with a feather of 15 and fill the shape with clouds ( filter,render,clouds )

Clouds Added

3. Now we need to add some motion blur ( filter,motion blur ), set the angle to match whichever way your smoke is moving and the distance to suit the movement you want to create.

Motion Blur

4. Now use the shear tool ( filter, distort,shear ) to move the smoke as you would like it to appear


5. Then select ( filter,liquify. ) Using the warp tool move the smoke to give light and shade as needed


6. Now you can deselect the lasso. With a large eraser brush set to an opacity of no more than 6% ( I used 4% ) blend the smoke from the edges to the middle creating the final shape. You should also adjust the layer opacity to blend the complete effect with the master image.


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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • dawa tsering January 28, 2010 06:03 pm

    the picture were osum

  • Rsmall January 31, 2009 08:55 am

    I am always very appreciative that someone takes the time to share their knowledge and helps others to grow in their knowlege of a certain subject (i.e. photoshop). I can choose to take the advice or I can choose not to. But I would never consider "Beating-the-author-up" because I didn't like the color of the smoke or that I may disagree with his technique. Accept the article in good faith as it was intended and be thankful that someone is offering a little knowledge and insight for your benefit. A little common courtesy will go a long way.

  • Nathaniel November 18, 2007 03:58 pm

    Definately needs a non grey tone to the smoke. It stands out as if artificial. Might be as simple as moving the layer down the stack so that it gets the effects of whatever else you did and doesn't look so orphaned.

    Nice tutorial. Sad that too many see it in the wrong light and prefer to voice negativity over recommendations.

  • Margaret Gilet November 18, 2007 09:51 am

    I am amazed at how many negative comments have been posted on a well documented and well illustrated TECHNIQUE. I am grateful to John for sharing his skill and hope to learn more.

  • Timography November 17, 2007 11:21 pm

    Man - all you guys complaining about this tutorial - LIGHTEN UP!! It's a tutorial not some kinda friggin critique! Maybe you should be thankful for the tutorial and the expertise in showing us rather than how fake or unrealistic it looks. I agree with DCKN, if you can do it better, go ahead! Otherwise, shut up and just say thank you... thats all from the raving aussie!

  • Graham Marsden November 17, 2007 04:33 pm

    Excellent tutorial although, like some of the others, I wasn't in love with the result. The original image is strong and the lighted windows make it. I feel that a much narrower and wispier smoke plume would have looked more realistic.

  • Al Greer November 16, 2007 05:56 pm

    As a few people have noted, adding a yellow/brown colour to the smoke would make it fit in with the yellow colour cast of the picture.
    If you do it on one of your own images and think it looks fake, you could always go back and have a fiddle around with it until it looks right.

  • Jim Loftus November 16, 2007 06:12 am

    This is a good technique, comments on liking/disliking it do not enhance it. I would appreciate comments and questions on how to make it better.

  • Klaidas November 16, 2007 01:10 am

    That smoke looks... just too fake.
    I mean, it IS fake, but it was not supposed to look like that.

  • DKCN November 15, 2007 12:32 pm

    The title did say, Adding smoke using photoshop, it didn't say, how to make your picture look better by adding smoke. I don't know, but for me, i liked the tutorial as well. You can use the smoke technique for fun. Like let's say, a picture where a guy drinks a very spicy soup, so smoke comes out of his ears. There are so many ways you can utilize the smoke technique. =) Maybe if there was a different picture, the others would appreciate it more.

  • james November 15, 2007 10:22 am

    Adding a smoke, make the picture more alive (Dinner ready sir!) Of course, this just a demo showing HOW TO...
    If I want to do it, I might spend more time to make it looks real (I hope)

  • Tim November 15, 2007 07:23 am

    thanks for this tutorial John. I've noticed that every time there is a photoshop tutorial here at this blog that there is a polarization of opinion. I think it's the nature of photoshopping - ie that there are so many ways to do things and that personal taste also comes into it. I hope that you're not discouraged by the above comments. I for one have appreciated this tutorial and look forward to learning more from you.

  • isaac November 15, 2007 03:16 am

    Thanks for sharing but I think the photo looks great the way it is. I think the smoke looks fake and doesn't add anything. Was glad to see read that I wasn't the only one that felt this way.
    Thanks though for at least trying :)

  • pablo November 15, 2007 01:35 am

    hmmm... err... I meant in the comment above "Exposure Compensation", insteade of "Exposure Modes". You know, that -v, +v thingy. ;)

  • Marlene November 15, 2007 12:19 am

    I think I prefer the original photo also. The smoke, in color, direction, and shape, does not seem "real", given the contrast and shading of the original photo.

  • pablo November 14, 2007 10:18 pm


    I have been reading the posts of your blog for a while and I found everything very interesting.
    I am just a hobbist photographer, and I am trying to learn more. I would like to see an article about "Exposure Modes".

  • Torax November 14, 2007 07:24 pm

    I think that adding smoke to a picture has nothing to do with photography. It's painting. Not long ago there was a story about a press-photographer that got himself fired, because he added a little smoke to his pictures to make them look more impressive.

  • DKCN November 14, 2007 01:05 pm

    It's a basic tutorial, where by you tinker with later to get whatever you need out of it. I presume the ones who replied know how to do it better? If so, create a better tutorial in the forums section please =)

  • mike November 14, 2007 10:10 am

    I agree with Matthwe, (I presume it's Matthew) the tutorial should also focus on how to add the smoke so that it is relative to the image, because that shade of gray that was used has nothing to do with the color scheme of the original, and that is why it looks fake or like a lens flare of some sort

  • Shannon November 14, 2007 07:53 am

    Thank you for showing us how to do this. I don't know the other people who replied quite understood the purpose of this article.

  • Peter November 14, 2007 04:21 am

    Nice tutorial!

    I think one could greatly enhance the realism of the effect by color matching the smoke. Since the example image is very dark in the blue channel, the neutral gray looks a bit awkward, which, as Matthew already noted, makes it look as if it didn't belong to the image.

  • Matthwe Miller November 14, 2007 03:04 am

    Hmmm. I think if I saw that without being first told that it was smoke, I would think "what's that smear? Some sort of lens flare?"

  • smc1377 November 14, 2007 02:58 am

    I think the point of the article is how to add smoke, not how to make a picture look better by adding smoke.

  • Patrick November 14, 2007 02:58 am

    I agree with Jill. :)

  • Photothusiast November 14, 2007 02:40 am

    I have to agree with Jill. I think the picture looked better before hand. Good tutorial though. ;)

  • Jill November 14, 2007 02:27 am

    Personally, I think I prefer the picture without the smoke...but that's just me.