How to add Realistic Looking Smoke to your Photos

Lia Konrad, also known under the pseudonym “Liancary“, has been a fantasy and beauty photographer for 6 years. Lia is incredibly talented and can be considered an authority when it comes to beauty and fantasy photography.

We are proud to feature a few “how to” articles in which Lia shares a few of her photography and editing tips and tricks. These guides will help you get started and improve both your fantasy and beauty photography skills. In this second episode Lia explains how to add realistic looking smoke to a photograph.

In her first tutorial she explained how to create beauty photos with a low cost studio setup.

Liancary Photographer
Lia Konrad, better known as Liancary, a talented beauty and fantasy photographer

How to Add Realistic Smoke to a Photo

Sometimes we wonder how we can edit a photo, so that it looks more epic and leaves the viewer with an wow-effect. In some situations we even plan to work with real smoke grenades, but then the wind is too strong and all our plans are ruined and we have to come up with a Plan B. ;)

In this little tutorial I will show you an easy and effective way to add realistic looking smoke to your photos in Photoshop. I’ll work from step 1 to finish on a photo, that already has a base of smoke,- but this technique, that I will show you, works also perfectly fine on photos that have literally zero smoke in the original photo.

Step 1 – Download the free smoke brushes

As first step download the free Brushes from Jonas De Ro and install them to your
Photoshop. The brushes we focus on are named as “Cloud 1 and Cloud 2”.
(My favorite is Cloud 2 and in the examples I only worked with this one.)

Step 2 – Add 3 New Layers

Secondly, create 3 new layers. Additionally you can name them as Cloud 1, Cloud 2 and Cloud 3. The layer at the bottom will be painted with the darkest shade of the brush. And the top layer should be the highlights, using an almost white brush.

How to add smoke tutorial
First step, add three layers // Designer: Anton Krug, Model: Yilexiang

After applying the three different shades to your image, it should look like this. Your subject will be covered up in smoke, which we will fix now in the following step.

add clouds to a photo
Second step, add different shades of smoke

Step 3 – Add a Vector Mask

add a vector mask
Add a vector mask

Add a vector mask to your layer and now select your Cloud Brush and choose the color black.

Paint over the areas where you want the smoke to disappear.

You can play around with your opacity here and if you remove too much, just choose the color white to repaint the smoke back into your mask.

As you can see in my thumbnails, I removed the smoke in every layer a bit different. And now the extra added smoke gives the image a more epic and yet clean look.

Add smoke to an image
Remove the smoke that you want to disappear.

Final Result

And as I said before, it’s also possible to apply this technique to images that have no smoke in their original form, at all.

Result of adding smoke
Result of adding smoke

Youtube tutorial – step by step

How to add smoke to a Photo
Model & Styling: Mayalou.Portfolio

I recorded my editing for this photo and uploaded it to youtube, if you would like to see how this look was achieved! But it’s a non-talking video, so you will have to follow the steps with your eyes.
How to add smoke tutorial. Tutorial made by Liancary.

PS: In the video I didn’t work with layer masks, but I highly recommend you to use layer masks because you can can correct mistakes more easily, than if you only use the remover tool.

Want to know more about Lia Konrad? Make sure to visit her Instagram page or her website:

Additional Resources

If you’re looking for other smoke or special effect brushes to experiment with, these are some alternatives.

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