Photographic backdrops

 
  defman70 Train Controller

Hi there,

Before I start planning my layout I need to get the backdrop sorted out obviously.

Has anyone got any advice on how I might do a photographic backdrop of a real life town that I am trying to model? By that I mean suggestions for reducing photographs to desired scale etc etc. Software you have tried etc etc..

Are there any good articles around that may help me in my endeavour?

Thanks in advance.

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  Mansfield Deputy Commissioner

Location: Melbourne
A good backdrop can make or break a scene. Kudos for your initiative.

If you can make two trips, all the better. By that I mean your first attempt will have some slight errors in it. The lighting direction may be wrong, the camera lense may roll down by a couple of degrees as you take the photos.

Photoshop is ideal for this, but even a basic stitching program from Canon suffices.

Check focal length. You want something around 100mm. Don't got below 50mm, 35mm at most as the images will be wide angle, and the stitched horizontal lines won't be flat. Bump bump bump.
I include around 10 photos... this depends on the resolution of the camera (mine is an old Nikon D70s 6MP). Experiment!
A tripod is a must.
A spirit level on the hotshoe will minimise a downward sloping image
Make sure you have enough sky in the frame, otherwise you may need to reshoot. If it's a bright blue sky with no cloud, PS can be used to extend the top of the sky.

Here's one I took of Mansfield. http://www.mansfield76.webs.com (here you see only about 3m of it across)
It's 10m long, but only 0.5m high, and I would have preferred a greater ratio of sky to hills in the final image, but overall it will work.

Then print out the photos in B&W just to get the scale correct relative to the modelled area. The biggest limitation with photo backdrops, or biggest opportunity for greatness! is the viewing height difference between your viewing height and the height at which the photo was taken. These will be equal at some height, so before selecting whether you want to shoot down on or up to your subject matter, decide on your layout height.

Photobackdrops look great in the magazines, as the layout (with backscene) has been photographed at the optimal position in x,y,z for that specific backscene.

Once you are happy with the digital image, find a cost effective printing company.

Mike
BTW, I took the photos that formed the 2nd series of backscenes from Hobbies Plus.
  defman70 Train Controller


A good backdrop can make or break a scene. Kudos for your initiative.

If you can make two trips, all the better. By that I mean your first attempt will have some slight errors in it. The lighting direction may be wrong, the camera lense may roll down by a couple of degrees as you take the photos.

Photoshop is ideal for this, but even a basic stitching program from Canon suffices.

Check focal length. You want something around 100mm. Don't got below 50mm, 35mm at most as the images will be wide angle, and the stitched horizontal lines won't be flat. Bump bump bump.
I include around 10 photos... this depends on the resolution of the camera (mine is an old Nikon D70s 6MP). Experiment!
A tripod is a must.
A spirit level on the hotshoe will minimise a downward sloping image
Make sure you have enough sky in the frame, otherwise you may need to reshoot. If it's a bright blue sky with no cloud, PS can be used to extend the top of the sky.

Here's one I took of Mansfield. http://www.mansfield76.webs.com (here you see only about 3m of it across)
It's 10m long, but only 0.5m high, and I would have preferred a greater ratio of sky to hills in the final image, but overall it will work.

Then print out the photos in B&W just to get the scale correct relative to the modelled area. The biggest limitation with photo backdrops, or biggest opportunity for greatness! is the viewing height difference between your viewing height and the height at which the photo was taken. These will be equal at some height, so before selecting whether you want to shoot down on or up to your subject matter, decide on your layout height.

Photobackdrops look great in the magazines, as the layout (with backscene) has been photographed at the optimal position in x,y,z for that specific backscene.

Once you are happy with the digital image, find a cost effective printing company.

Mike
BTW, I took the photos that formed the 2nd series of backscenes from Hobbies Plus.

"Mansfield"


Hey Mike,

Thanks so much for your reply. Very detailed and just what I was after!

I have a feeling I know the answer to this already, but part of what I am modelling is a station yard and what I wanted to "stitch" was the street that runs behind the yard. It isn't a "vista" as such, just the streetscape.

I imagine that would be impossible to do what with perspective and all, but there would be a few structures and trees blocking part of the view, but I really did just want to line the backdrop with houses that I really don't have the depth on the layout, to model.

Any thoughts?

What version of Photoshop has the photomerge tool? Is it in the cheaper version?

Any help much appreciated...


Mark
  anzac1959 Chief Commissioner

Did a google search for free phpto stiching program and i downloaded this one aswell as the add on .Once installed i used 3 pics and it did it all for me TOO easy

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/
  a6et Minister for Railways

Did a google search for free phpto stiching program and i downloaded this one aswell as the add on .Once installed i used 3 pics and it did it all for me TOO easy

http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/
"anzac1959"


Anzac, that is an absolutely brilliant stitching program, thank you for the link.  My problem with some pics taken do not have enough overlap on them, but that's a good reason for a trip later in the year.
  Datazoid Junior Train Controller

I'll throw this up as a suggestion for a printing company: http://blackandwhitephoto.com.au/

They're in SA, but ship to anywhere. Their prices for large-format printing are extremely reasonable, and the quality's excellent. They do a 75cm x 1.5m (30x60 inch) print for around $75 plus postage, which sounds pretty handy for what you're after.

Hope this helps.
  Shawy Chief Train Controller

I'll throw this up as a suggestion for a printing company: http://blackandwhitephoto.com.au/

They're in SA, but ship to anywhere. Their prices for large-format printing are extremely reasonable, and the quality's excellent. They do a 75cm x 1.5m (30x60 inch) print for around $75 plus postage, which sounds pretty handy for what you're after.
"Datazoid"


I agree with Mansfield that a good backdrop can make or break a model railway.

Depending on how you want to go about printing, you don't necessarily need to look at getting "big" prints done. Once you've stitched together all your images and done whatever editing you think is necessary, you will probably have one very long file. For printing, rather than try to have that one file printed, you can then "slice" your file into more manageable sized files, each with a section of your final backdrop. Depending how tall you want your backdrop to, you can for example then use a number of A3 pages for the printing, and simply glue them together on whatever material you are using for the backdrop. An A3 page will give you at least 250mm by 400mm after trimming, which may be a bit on the low side, but you could then add further layers of sky and cloud above that.

I've done this a couple of times and my own view is that a photo-quality look is not what I want; my view is that a truly photo quality backdrop overpowers the model. What I have done is use the image editor to try to give a more water-colour look. However, your needs may vary. Since I wasn't after true photo-quality printing, it also allowed me to have my local copier shop do the printing, which is a much cheaper way to go than trying to get a photo-quality print done of one big file. If you have access to a copier then it can be even cheaper.

You can have a lot of fun doing backdrops, as I did here:

 

 

At this point of the overall backdrop, it's a combination of several images. Firstly there was my basic panorama of images I took for the purpose and then stitched together. I then added a few small details here and there, along with a separate image of mine of a dirt road, which I skewed and distorted to bend around to the right. I also added another image to suggest the road in the cutting, and finally I found a clipart file of the poplars that I used to screen the road as it travelled further around the scene to the right. As with a coat of paint hiding a multitude of sins, this allowed me to avoid having to detail the road as it crossed the scene in the background.

 In addition to editing the images, one thing you might want to be aware of, though it might not bother you, is that if your panorama of images that you stitch together covers a wide angle of view, you will almost certainly find that the intensity of the blue of the sky will vary quite a bit. This bothered me, so I removed the sky and clouds completely from my file, and then replaced it with a graduated blue fill: lighter near the horizon, and a little darker towards the top.

 I hope this helps – once you get the hang of it this can be very satisfying.

 

Alan

  a6et Minister for Railways

I'll throw this up as a suggestion for a printing company: http://blackandwhitephoto.com.au/

They're in SA, but ship to anywhere. Their prices for large-format printing are extremely reasonable, and the quality's excellent. They do a 75cm x 1.5m (30x60 inch) print for around $75 plus postage, which sounds pretty handy for what you're after.
"Datazoid"


I agree with Mansfieldthat a good backdrop can make or break a model railway.

Depending on how you want to go about printing, you don't necessarily need to look at getting "big" prints done. Once you've stitched together all your images and done whatever editing you think is necessary, you will probably have one verylong file. For printing, rather than try to have that one file printed, you can then "slice" your file into more manageable sized files, each with a section of your final backdrop. Depending how tall you want your backdrop to, you can for example then use a number of A3 pages for the printing, and simply glue them together on whatever material you are using for the backdrop. An A3 page will give you at least 250mm by 400mm after trimming, which may be a bit on the low side, but you could then add further layers of sky and cloud above that.

I've done this a couple of times and my own view is that a photo-quality look is not what I want; my view is that a truly photo quality backdrop overpowers the model. What I have done is use the image editor to try to give a more water-colour look. However, your needs may vary. Since I wasn't after true photo-quality printing, it also allowed me to have my local copier shop do the printing, which is a much cheaper way to go than trying to get a photo-quality print done of one big file. If you have access to a copier then it can be even cheaper.

You can have a lot of fun doing backdrops, as I did here:

 

 

At this point of the overall backdrop, it’s a combination of several images. Firstly there was my basic panorama of images I took for the purpose and then stitched together. I then added a few small details here and there, along with a separate image of mine of a dirt road, which I skewed and distorted to bend around to the right. I also added another image to suggest the road in the cutting, and finally I found a clipart file of the poplars that I used to screen the road as it travelled further around the scene to the right. As with a coat of paint hiding a multitude of sins, this allowed me to avoid having to detail the road as it crossed the scene in the background.

 In addition to editing the images, one thing you might want to be aware of, though it might not bother you, is that if your panorama of images that you stitch together covers a wide angle of view, you will almost certainly find that the intensity of the blue of the sky will vary quite a bit. This bothered me, so I removed the sky and clouds completely from my file, and then replaced it with a graduated blue fill: lighter near the horizon, and a little darker towards the top.

 I hope this helps – once you get the hang of it this can be very satisfying.

 

Alan

"Shawy"


Some time back I remember Alan giving me some excellent tips on backdrops from Photo's & I agree with him 100% in regard to getting them right.  Both photo backdrops as well as painted ones are meant to enhance & not take over from the overall model scene, & when people comment on what a great backdrop you have & say nothing of the rest of the layout, then a question mark could be placed on the whole lot.

What we can easily get caught up in is when we see a photo that has been taken of a layout, & then had a genuine background image substitued in order to make it look as if you are actually there, & more real than model like.  I believe that is a great way of showing up & highlighting many of the skills that a modeller has, it adds depth to the photo, & has alway impressed me, & I know the work of one person in particular never ceases to both amaze & impress me with his skills in that regard.

At the same time I have seen wonderful layouts spoilt by poor background painting, & rarelly have I seen some that look really professional & enhances the overall experience of what I am seeing, but that is me, & others will think differently.  In the end the backdrops that have impresse me the most are those with good photographic backdrops, ones that are of largely subdued tones, & not sharp wonderfull photo's in their own right.

The photostitch software that Anzac posted the link to will now have me go out & try for some more photo's later this year in order to hopefully get shots of areas that can be stretched into the backdrop.

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