Create Festive Holiday Overlays Using Photoshop

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hood-with-snowDid you know that you can add a bit of fun holiday flare to your portraits by adding holiday lights or falling snow in Photoshop? I’m going to share a few tips on how to create that look.

Let’s start with this “before” picture. It’s a nice shot of a girl looking out the window.

Taking pictures with overlaysAfter playing for a bit in Photoshop, I’ve got this great look:

Bokeh lights in photoshopFun, right? Here’s how to create that look. I’ll first explain how to get “holiday lights” in your photo, and then do the same for “snow.”

Holiday  lights:

  • To create a holiday light overlay (also called a “bokeh” overlay), take an out-of-focus picture of holiday lights shot at a large aperture (such as f/2.8).  You can take a picture of lights that are hung on a tree, or lights that are hung against a plain colored bed sheet. You can also download light overlays from various places online.
  • Choose a background and an overlay that are similar in tone.  If your light overlay is bright, try a white background.  If you are trying to create the illusion of holiday lights seen through a window, try a black background.
  • Copy and paste the light overlay onto your original image, then mask out the subject using a soft brush.  You can also make a layer selection. Pay close attention to the edges around your subject.
  • After adding the overlay, adjust the “Blend Mode.” The different blend modes in Photoshop will change how the overlay interacts with your original picture.  “Screen” and “Overlay” blend modes often work well for these types of images.
  • Adjust the opacity of your overlay.  Pulling the opacity down even just a few percentage points (from 100% down to 90%, for example), will often help to blend the two images and give a more believable result.

You can do something similar with a simulated snow effect. Here is my before photo:

How to create lights in photoshopAnd here is the after with the flurry overlay.

Create overlay in photoshopSnow:

  • You can create a snow overlay by using series of soft white brush strokes and blur features in Photoshop.  Alternately, you can also purchase snow overlays from various companies online.
  • Take a portrait with the subject wearing winter clothes.  Your snow overlay portrait will not be believable if your subject is wearing a sundress and flip flops!
  • Copy and paste your snow overlay onto the original image.  Adjust the blend mode and opacity.  “Soft light” and “Screen” modes often work well for snow overlays. You may want to mask and brush the snow overlay off of the subject’s face.
  • Adjust the color temperature of the picture to be a bit cool.  When it’s cold and snowy outside, the light is often bluish.
  • Keep it subtle.  If you create an avalanche, the Photoshopped snow will distract from your subject.

I hope this helps you think of ways you can be creative with your images, and even if you don’t have snow, you can create snow in Photoshop!

Images by: Liz Hansen and Kristen Duke

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