Home-made photographic back scenes

The process I have developed (if you can call it that) is neither quick nor particularly cheap – but it can provide a tailor-made backscene to enhance your model. I have evolved some rather esoteric procedures here, and it may be possible to streamline the process.

The attached PowerPoint (23mB) should be viewed in tandem with these notes.


Some general points:

It is worth preparing thoroughly. For instance, I have in mind the geography of the surrounding, non-modelled area, so that topography etc. can be co-ordinated with the model proper.

The most important points to success seem to be finding the right height for the horizon, which is normally lower than expected, and ensuring that colours blend with those on the model, allowing for the paling effect of distance.

Distant scenes are easier than close ones, because the distortion of perspective when seen from an angle is less. Close-up features are hardest to do, and involve compromise. It is necessary to remove and depth from such buildings and treat them as 2-dimensional ‘flats’. A backscene is not the same as a panoramic photo taken from one point. It is more like a mural of merged images; this is why the camera-car of a certain well-known online company provides such useful images!

The join between the baseboard and the backscene requires careful consideration, is it is most effective if obscured.

Corners of the layout are important. I now create curved backscenes using 3mm plywood. The lost corner space is more than made up for by the improved appearance. The effect can be enhanced further by careful planning of the topography. For example, on Sulle, the river valley recedes into one layout corner, and the curving backscene gives an improved sense of depth and distance as a result, without having to resort to forced perspective.

You will also need to consider things such as the position of the sun, light levels, position and depth of shadows etc. All of these things can be adjusted using colour editor tools. I find the ones on Irfanview to be the easiest to use. This program is also useful for resizing images, sharpening them etc.

I use three online programs. The reason for this is that the free version of Photoshop does not do everything that is required, although it is by far the best for retouching images, and I use it the most.

The three programs are:

Photoshop Elements (came with computer)

Irfanview – excellent for cropping and colour-adjustments. http://www.irfanview.com/

GIMP2 – the main reason for using this is that it is possible to take cut-outs from an image without taking a white background rectangle with it, which is the problem with Photoshop Elements. It also has good tools for adjusting parallax and other distortions.  https://www.gimp.org/

I tend to assemble backscenes in PowerPoint as it is easy to measure distances and to move elements around. It must be possible to merge all the eventual images into one, and get it professionally printed. So far, I have not done this as I find it easier to assemble the image in small sections – at the cost of small joins though these can be disguised with care.

It is necessary to learn these programs reasonably well – I have only shown some of the possibilities on my instructions. There may well be a less clunky method than mine…

Step 1.

Work out how many PowerPoint slides you will need, allowing for the white margin when they print out. Create the requisite number of slides. It can be useful at this point to use formatted shapes of appropriate dimensions to position critical features such as roads leading off the baseboard, track exits etc.

Step 2.

Create a sky scene. You can use pretty much any image you want. It is easiest to use a cloudless sky and add clouds later. Try to find one that fades to the horizon. It is also important to ensure that the colour at either end of your picture is identical. The easiest way to do this is to use a very narrow sample strip to minimise horizontal colour variation, and then stretch the image (being plain blue, it won’t show). Paste your finished sky scene onto all of the slides you will need.

It may be worth printing a test page at this stage, to see how it looks on the model. In particular, blues print more brightly than they appear on the screen, so you may well need a much paler blue than you first think.

Step 3.

The longest part of the task by far is choosing the images you want to use. They can come from any source, but it is important to keep the resolution and colouring fairly constant. Start by selecting distant scenes with a horizon. If you are using Streetview then you will need to move around the landscape a lot to find the best views. You may need to go up hills to find ones that are less obstructed by unwanted foregrounds. It is very unlikely that you will simply be able to take one view and use it unchanged. You will need to use creativity to marry different views together. Remember to take shots from different viewpoints as you move along the scene. They can be blended together later.

Step 4. You may need to remove foreground details. This can be done in Photoshop editor using the Healing Brush tool. You will need to experiment with various brush sizes and hardnesses and remember to use ‘replace’ option rather than normal, which blends things together. Larger brushes are less manoeuvrable, but give less of a mosaic repeating pattern effect. When it come to erasing against the sky, use your replacement colour from as close to the original as possible. This process can be used to remove anything you want from the picture. The easiest thing to replace ‘hard’ items with is extra vegetation. It is also possible to past foreground images over difficult-to-hide features. This process requires practice, and is best thought of as a form of painting, using sampled colours/textures as your palette.

Step 5. Use the quick selection tool to drag/capture those parts of the scene you wish to use. No need to take the sky. Edit/copy as required.

Step 6. Open GIMP2. Paste the image and use tools/selection tools/colour selection to select the sky. Then use select/invert to select everything except the sky. Copy the image and paste it into PowerPoint. You should find there is no white background showing as happens with the free version of Photoshop.

Further steps… are shown in the slides. Basically it involves repeating the above to assemble your scenes and then putting the whole thing back into Photoshop editor to do any final blending, cleaning etc. In particular, it is worth softening the edges of overlays using the smudge tool, so they do not appear too sharply defined. Other than that, it’s a lot of trial and error!


This entry was posted in Sulle - France in 2mm, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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