Location … Location

My layout is small .. for On30 I suppose it could be considered very small. It was originally two On30 modules, each 2’x4′ which I put on one wall as the long leg of an L-shaped layout. The shorter leg about half that. I had put On18 track high around the outside .. the story being that this small gauge track was a mining track delivering unwashed coal to be processed. When I added the short-leg portion of the L I found that it limited the visual depth there. I decided to put in a plate girder bridge that would funnel the view back to a backdrop .. to add that missing depth.


  • Graphics Program: I’m going to suggest Corel Paint Shop Pro. If you have Photoshop then great! Paint Shop Pro offers many the tools you’d see in Photoshop, from layers, Layer Masks and Blending Modes, to sophisticated options like HDR (high dynamic range) image merging tools and a Photo Blend tool for blending parts of different objects. – and – Paint Shop Pro vs. Photoshop — for me, PSP wins out. I have been using PSP for over a decade. I am happy with the program for everything from correcting color and brightness issues on digital photos to creating digital and vector art. Professionals might use Photoshop, but for average users PaintShop Pro is more than adequate … and it won’t break the bank. (swiped those paragraphs). You can purchase it directly from the company for $79.99 (currently $69.99) which beats the heck out of Adobe Photo Shop at ****. What you say? Sounds good but I like to try before I buy? Fine. You can download a trial copy from Corel – a FULLY FUNCTIONAL copy with a 30-day trial. Now that .. is hard to beat .. really. Seriously. No kidding. → Download Trial
  • Stock Photo(s): One word – Shorpy – a vintage photography blog. It posts digitally enhanced photographs acquired from a variety of sources, including the Library of Congress and National Archives. Most of the photographs presented on the website date to the early twentieth century.
  • Blades: X-Acto knifes for cutting around ‘stuff’ and Single Edge Razor Blades for straight cuts. You can pick up a box of 100 single edge razor blades from Harbor Freight for $4.99.
  • Spray Adhesive: 3M 77 is an excellent all around choice which I use for card modeling. This is a very aggressive product .. once it goes down it is there .. forever. 3M General Purpose 45 that is Photo Safe. Loctite High Performance 200 says it works on Wood, Metal, Acrylic, Foam, Fabric, Polypropylene and PVC. There is also Krylon Easy-Tack – a Repositionable Adhesive.
  • Block Posters: A way to get from your composited backdrop photo. This free service works pretty well to allow you to print your backdrop on your own printer. You can of course take the file to Office Depot if you wish to have it professionally printed. Myself .. have been quite pleased with pounding out the backdrop on my cheepo ink jet printer. Even if you decide to have your backdrop professionally printed it is a good idea to print a version yourself to get color, perspective and size correct before dropping the big bucks.

Stock Photos

I’m going to show some useful photos I ran across in Shorpy – of the type that can provide the elements for a DIY backdrop. In this case I am focusing on buildings but of course you can use whatever floats your boat. I just put “City” in the search box for the following. The majority of these photos will expand to high definition photos when you view full size. Note: Most of these photos are in Black and White. A few have been Colorized – another thing you can do yourself.

I was looking for photos that show buildings at a fairly low point of view without a lot of ‘stuff’ between them and the camera. Photos taken across a body of water are often nice since the only obstruction you have to fight are the ships.

The following are a few that I selected to show what a resource Shorpy is.

Factoryville: 1910 – The photograph was shot on Franklin Ave, just east of W 25th street in Cleveland. Note that this information was taken from the comments – lots of good information there. This is a great background photo – “as is”.
Sloss City Furnaces: 1906 – taken in Birmingham, Alabama, circa 1906. The building on the left is cut-off but that is no problem as you could use this further ‘back’ in the scene and put another building in front of that.
Charm City: 1903 – Circa 1903. “Baltimore from Federal Hill.” A freight terminal (O’Donnell’s Wharf) and the Patapsco flour mill.
Upward Mobility: 1908 – Cincinnati, Ohio, circa 1908. “Mount Adams Incline.”. I love this photo and have spent hours in the Full Size View exploring. Not for the backdrop but the tons of information hid here. Take a look at the far left center of the photo. The street rises steeply up to that stone retaining wall. Look at that slope on the sidewalk .. and that stone culvert mostly buried in the ground. What a great scenic inspiration! I used a portion of this photo for my backdrop .. after colorizing it.
Steamboat Annie: 1904 – Colorized photo showing The Mississippi River, circa 1904. “Vicksburg waterfront.” The sternwheelers Annie Russell and Alice B. Miller. This was the basis for my backdrop. Note that the city slopes up very similar to the scene from ‘Upward Mobility’.

2 thoughts on “City Backdrop”

  1. Ed,
    Thanks for the great SBS on the city Backdrop. I have Corel Draw, Sketch-up and MGI Photosuite III. I hope I can get them to work.

    1. Corel Draw is a Vector Graphic program (I think). I believe Photosuite works with photo editing .. but not familiar with either. Note that on the first page of this thread I linked to where you can download a fully-functioning copy of Paint Shop Pro for 30 days .. and PSP will do everything you need I expect.

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