How to Create Fog and Mist in Photoshop

how to create fog and mist_header

If we all could wake up at an early morning hour and capture those breathtaking shots where a thick layer of fog is covering the rolling hills or forests and the early morning sun leaves light rays breaking through the layers of fog – all the photos would look like that. Unfortunately, very few photographers make it out at that early hour, but luckily for those choosing to sleep-in – there is Photoshop. This tutorial will show you how to create fog and mist in Photoshop using a number of different tools.

The example image used in this tutorial shows a young woman in a forest setting. Overall, it looks a little dull, and the background that looks slightly out of focus in the image, makes it seem that the model and the background have been shot in different locations and different lighting setting. Adding fog and mist can help tie her into the background and make the entire image more unified.

open image

Creating fog or mist will require working with layers that will cover the original image; using the layer mask option we will paint parts of the fog into the image. This is the process of adding fog or mist in a nutshell. Before adding new layers we have to consider how fog or mist actually looks. First, it becomes denser the further we look – we will need one layer to show this effect. Second, it adds texture to the light in those areas, it makes you see the light streaks as they hit the fog or mist – we will need a layer to show this effect. Third, the fog that is closer to you will have a higher level of detail, it might role, twist or curl in the air – we will need another layer to show this effect.

To create a new layer that will serve as the base of the entire fog and mist area use the icon ‘Create a new layer’ found in the layer panel. It will add an empty layer on top of your image. Selected the Gradient tool found in the Photoshop Tools panel and adjust the gradient setting to select the gradient that goes from white to transparent.

new gradient layer

To adjust your gradient setting, once you selected the Gradient tool, open the Gradient tool settings by clicking the box that shows your current setting. It will open an option panel allowing you to select the gradient transition you are looking for and adjust the color for that gradient.

gradient optionsApply the gradient to the image, it needs to create a smooth transition from transparent to white, parts of the image closer to you should appear far more transparent that the sections of the image farther in the background. Aim to create the gradient that is much brighter than what you need – you will be erasing section that you do not wish to see using a layer mask.

add layer mask

Apply the layer mask to the gradient layer by clicking ‘Add layer mask’ icon in the layer panel. Use the brush tool to erase parts of the mask you do not wish to see – have a look at our shortcuts for the brush tool to work more efficiently when using brushes. To allow for a smooth transition between different sections of the image, use a lower opacity and a minimum hardness brush. Slowly erase parts of the gradient that are at the top of the image, since the fog usually lingers close to ground. Further, use the brush tool to erase sections closer to the model, the fog should be more transparent the closer it gets to the viewer.

using layer mask

Add another new layer to the image. This is where we will add texture and curls to the fog and mist. A common option is to use the ‘Render clouds’ option from the ‘Filter’ section of the Photoshop toolbar; however, for a more realistic look it is best to use a set of fog, smoke or cloud brushes, easily found to download for free online.

If you used the render clouds option, then again use the layer mask method to paint the detail into the fog. If you are using brushes, then paint the detail of the fog using different brush sizes and varied opacity levels. In both scenarios, add detail in front of the model, so that she appears as standing in the fog.

adding brushes

Last, we want to create a layer that will show the sunlight coming through the trees and hitting the fog. Often a simple dodge method can work, you can find the dodge tool in the Photoshop tool panel or use the keyboard shortcut ‘O’ to access it; however, for a more realistic look and to have more control over your image it is best to create a new layer that you can layer mask.

Again use the ‘Create a new layer’ icon to create a new layer. This time use the fill layer option, shortcut ‘Shift + Delete’ (Shift + Backspace for Windows), fill the layer with white color and slightly lower the opacity level.

fill layer

Again apply a layer mask to the layer and invert the mask with the shortcut ‘Cmd + I’ (Ctrl + I for Windows). Now the image should look exactly how it was before creating the new layer. Using a white brush, paint in the mask so that it reveals the light streaks coming through the trees and hitting the fog on the ground. Start by using a low opacity and gradually brush it to create transition. Make sure to take into consideration that in some areas the light will be blocked by trees; make sure to leave those areas masked, since they should remain in shadow.

adding light streaksjpg

For the final step, we can add a Color Adjustment layer to add a bit of unity to the image and add warmth to the light streaks that are coming through the leaves. To do that select the ‘Add Adjustment layer’ icon in the layer panel, and in the menu that appears, select the Color Balance option. Make it significantly warmer than it was – consider that these are going to be areas where the sunlight will be hitting the fog and naturally should look warmer.

color balance adjustmentAgain create a layer mask for the adjustment layer and invert the mask, shortcut ‘Cmd + I’ (Ctrl + I for Windows). Using the white brush gradually add color to the parts of the image for warmth, especially in the parts that are closer to where the light is coming through. Add some of that color to the model as well and you should have a finished image.

final image

Did you find this tutorial useful? If you are looking to create a different weather effect, read our guide on how to add rain to your image.

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