Anime Background Paint Over Photo

anime background foto paint over
Sometime I use foto that I took with my camera phone as a starting point for my landscape painting. In this blog entry, I will write about my workflow on turning photo into anime style background.

Original Photo

This is the original photo I took with my camera phone, Nokia808.

original photo

Masking to seperate the graphic element

The original photo is not really eye pleasing because there are too many random objects everywhere. So, I mask away unwanted objects amd separate different objects in into different layers.

Doing this will make the painting process easier, and changes can be done easier later. You can delete the mask when everything are final.

Sky Color

After separating all the objects and removing unwanted stuff, the first thing I will do is to add in the sky color. This is because the sky will tell you the time of the day, and set the overall color (ambient) and mood. To paint the sky, use a soft round edge or the gradient tool. Because I am doing a sunset settings, so the horizon are brighter.


Color Grading by Adjusting Colors via Curves or Levels

After setting the colors of the sky, you can adjust the photo to match the sky color. Animation usually have more saturated colors. For example shadow are more blue, sun are more red and yellow etc. But since my photo are already quite dark and match the background quite well (I think? I am colorblind so I can't really tell), so I just did a small boost on saturation (CTRL-U).

Color grading and correction

There are a lot of way to do color adjustments. Using the adjustment layers or adjusting the colors directly on the layers. Adjustment layers will affect all layers below it, but you can control it with a mask. Adjusting on the image directly is permanent and lost the ability to change later.

Color grading and correction are one big topic. I wont go into detail on how to do this, as you can easily find it online. You can adjust the color of the photo before, after or while you are painting. There is nothing wrong or right. But I usually did one time adjustment before painting, just to get the default color/mood of the artwork first.

Painting Cloud

Add a new layer and start painting the clouds. Because I had mask the building earlier, now it is easier for me to paint the clouds behind the building.

Painting Cloud

Quick step to paint clouds:
  1. Add a new layer, use a hard round edge brush to paint the shape of the cloud.
  2. Further adjust the shape of the cloud, by deleteing and adding smaller detail. You can adjust your brush "scattering option" to help on this step.
  3. Lock the layer transparency, and paint in the 3 colors. Shadow, Midtone and Highlight with a round brush with opacity dynamic (other Dynamic) on.
  4. Further paint and blending
  5. Scale down your brush to paint to have a finer detail.

With Cloud

Painting over the Photo

Painting over the photo is actually quite simple than most people would have thought. You just need to color pick (ALT in brush mode) from the photo and paint on it. Keep on doing this, until you have that painterly feel on the artwork. But in generall, you want to remove most photo compression artifact and noise.

Remove image compression artifacts

You might want to remove unwanted objects in the photo and re-adding certain missing parts as well. Here you can see why I separate the rail and building into two different layers in the beginning. Now I can paint the rail layer without worrying about accidentally painting into building layer.


Painting the trees

One area that I figure that is better to repaint from scratch are trees. Painting it into a simple 2 to 3 shades are good enough for a 2D anime background.

Painting trees
Quick step to paint trees:
  1. Paint a base shape for the trees using a custom brush I made.
  2. Lock transparency. paint other colors in
  3. Same as step 2, with different color.

The key of painting trees are really just making your own custom brush. Take a photo, convert it into black and white, and define it as brush preset.

Painting trees

Adding in the highlight/brighter area

Add another layer(or more). Set it to any addictive blending mode (add/screen) and start painting on area that you think should be brighter. Sometime, you will want to add in the "Shadow" layer with multiply blendmode instead of the light area.


Adding in Extra Elements

The sky was still abit empty so I add in some extra objects to the artwork. You will need to paint over these objects too.


Adding in the Atmospheric Effect

Adding in atmospheric effect like haze, flog or glow is the easiest way to add value to your artwork. It will make your artwork more belieavable and adding more depth to its. Paint this with a soft round edge brush.

Glow Haze

The Artwork "KL Sentral Station"

This is the final result of the paint over, "KL Sentral Station".

Paint over photo
Some comparison shot of before and after paint over. The more we practice, the more it will look painterly. So keep on painting!

Paint over photo


DeviantArt KL Sentral Station


  1. Hi, this is a great tutorial!!!! Is it possible to download the original picture? For learning purposes.


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