How to Make it Rain with Photoshop
Rain is a tricky element to create artificially with any art program. If done improperly it will look out of place and cartoonish, but with the right steps, you can make realistic looking rain with the basic tools provided to you in Adobe Photoshop.
First, find a digital image you would like to add rain to. It helps if items in the image are already wet, but it is not a requirement. Open the picture with Adobe Photoshop. Before you even begin attempting to add rain, play around with the brightness/contrast tool and the color balance tool. If you don’t know how to use these tools, then I recommend checking out my article on basic photo editing. With these tools your goal is to make the color scheme look like it is cloudy. The more sun there is in your picture the harder it will be. Focus on adding cyan and blue color to the picture as well as reducing the image’s saturation, so it appears grey, just like your surroundings when it is about to rain. Once this is satisfactory (you can always go back and adjust it more) you are ready to start adding the rain.
There are a lot of brushes available for purchase that let you simply stamp a swath of raindrops onto a picture, but if you don’t want to spend any extra money, it can be accomplished with the basic tools in photoshop. First you want to create a series of white dots on the image. Remember to do it on a separate layer so if something goes wrong you haven’t ruined your original image. You can always create new layers from the menu on the lower right side of the screen. (The new layer button looks like a tiny slip of paper with the edge folded.)
You can paint in these white dots by hand with the brush tool, or you can use a filter to speed up the process. For my example I used the mosaic filter. Simply create a new layer and use the Paint Bucket Tool to fill it in with a solid, light grey color. Then go to your filter gallery and apply the mosaic filter to the layer. You want the tiles to be relatively small and the gap between them large. Once you have the filter applied, click on the Paint Bucket Tool again. Now go up to the options on the top of the screen, just below the file and edit toolbar. You should see something that says “Mode” with a white box next to it that says “Normal”. Click the down arrow next to this white box and select “Clear”. This will make the bucket tool fill a specified area with transparency. Click on the dark grey cracks of your mosaic layer so they all disappear. You should be left with a bunch of white dots on the screen.
Now that we have the white dots you need to go back to the filter menu at the top of the page and select “Blur” then “Motion Blur”. Immediately you will see that all of those tiny white dots have been blurred, as if in motion, giving the appearance of rain. In the motion blur window you have the option to change which direction the dots are blurring and to what extent they are being blurred. As you can see, we’ve made some pretty convincing rain.
Now that you’ve made some basic rain, there are some ways to refine the picture. The first is to remember that when you’re looking at rain, its size will decrease the farther away it gets until it is a sort of grey fog. Since we have our rain separated onto its own layer, we can play around with its size. Start by making a copy of the layer. The quickest way to do this is to click on the layer and drag it down to the button on the lower right that looks like a piece of paper with the corner peeled up (remember, this is the new layer button). This will create a copy of the layer. Next we want to click back on the original layer and shrink it. (You will click on the original layer because it is ordered before the copy, which will display it underneath the larger rain in the foreground. The best way to shrink this is by going to “Edit” menu above and clicking on “Transform” then “Scale”. Click on the corner edge of the boundary boxes that show up and hold the shift key before adjusting the size. Holding the shift key keeps the parameters equal so it doesn’t make the image too wide or tall.
Once you are finished accept the changes and you will see a small box of rain that you can move around. Make copies of this layer to cover the entire image and you now have rain that is farther from the camera.
If you can see where each “box” of rain overlaps, don’t worry. Simply select the eraser tool and pick a brush that has a soft edge, then go around each rain box and fade its edges so they blend more seamlessly together. Also, you might consider lowering the opacity of each of the background layers so the whiteness doesn’t overwhelm the photo. The opacity can be found at the top of the layers window in the right corner.
There are two other things you can do to really make your
rain scene pop, however the more you add to it, the higher the chance of
failure. I tell you this from experience. The first is to create your own set
of clouds for an otherwise sunny picture. Find another image that does contain
the clouds you want. Then copy and paste that cloudy picture onto the other
picture (as a new layer, always). Then select the gradient tool. This can be
found by clicking the Paint Bucket Tool, and holding down the mouse button
until it shows you a smaller menu. Select the gradient tool from this menu.
Next go up to Layer menu at the top of the program, then select “Add Layer
Mask” and “Reveal All”. Now, using your gradient tool, click and drag the line
in a vertical motion from the top to the bottom, it will create a transparent
gradient that should reveal your other picture below. You can retry this method
as many times as you want to get the right amount of clouds visible. Depending
on how much color is in your clouds, you can desaturate them to make them look
more like storm clouds. (If the gradient isn't working, try changing the type of gradient in the top left menu from a black and white color to black and transparent.)
Repeat the steps from above to add rain, then adjust the brightness/contrast, color balance and saturation until the clouds and background picture match up. It won’t always be a perfect match, but with enough fine tuning it can blend fairly well.
The second thing you can do is add a shine and/or water droplets to the ground. I didn’t provide an example image for this because I haven’t perfected it yet. Essentially you create a shine on objects where one would exist when it’s wet. This can be accomplished by using the brush tool and a white color, or using the “Dodge” tool. Instructions on how to use the dodge tool can also be found in my basic photo editing article.
To add water droplets to the ground you can use the brush tool. The trick is to make the drops that are hitting the ground look like little splashes. There are some brushes that come with Adobe Photoshop that resemble this, but it will be trial and error. Like I said, I haven’t perfected it myself, these are just some methods you can play around with to help make your rain photo look that much better.
Some Additional Tips:
- Always check your settings. If your paint bucket tool is still making things transparent, then go back and set it to normal again.
- Always make sure you have the correct layer selected. If you have the wrong layer selected then you might end up blurring or adding a layer mask to the wrong part of the image. The history window on the right hand side is your best friend for undoing mistakes.
- While this is a fun way to create rain where there was none before, the results won’t always be perfect. Some photos are just harder to edit than others.
More in this Series
It’s not as complicated as you think, and once you learn how to do this, you can become anyone.
There are so many ways to make small images into desktop wallpapers that I wrote a second article about it!