Creating Quick Badass Backgrounds in Affinity Photo


Does ‘I wan it for yesterday’ ring a bell to you? I bet it does. Or, maybe you’ve been stuck for hours looking at your content, but are just unable to find a killer background to finish your design? I’d double-bet on that one too!

In either case and even if you’re just looking for something fun to do today, this quick technique will help you get your brain fluids… well, flowing and ready to generate infinite ideas for backgrounds.

Today, we’ll learn how to convert almost any image; especially the ones that wouldn’t stand at all by themselves, into dazzling backgrounds for your design needs.
Feel confused already? No better time to get started.

Waste-picking in our photo library:

I’m pretty sure you have a ton of trashy photos occupying hard drive space in your mobile phone, don’t cha? Perfect! We’re one step ahead already. These shouldn’t necessarily need to be trashy photos, they’re maybe just photos that weren’t intended to serve for any artistic matters at all.

Like this one:

Took this photo last December, from a moving sidewalk at Barajas Airport in Madrid with the sole purpose of being sent to my mother over WhatsApp, to let her know that I was about to board my flight.

The photo accomplished its mission and was buried down since then, under tons of more interesting and fancy photos.

A couple of months later, looking into my photo library, found this one again and saw it under another angle. I thought to myself: ‘Mmm, maybe if I crop it right here, it would look more interesting and it could be used for something else, other than sending it through WhatsApp’.

So I transferred the photo to my laptop, imported it to Affinity Photo, cropped it down leaving only its most interesting details and here’s the result:

You can do the same exercise with your own library and catch up with this tutorial later. It works better, when you don’t think too much about it and just pick any random photo that you aren’t too proud of. Let your instincts tell you what to do.

If you want to follow this tutorial with the same photo I took, you can download it here:

To grayscale or not to grayscale:

The cropping part and this one, aren’t necessary to use this technique at all. Personally, I rather take a minute or two, to apply a Black and White Adjustment Layer to my photo and then flatten it all. This way, values will be more obvious and it will get easier to identify which areas of my photo will be affected by what in the following steps.

I repeat, this isn’t absolutely necessary, just a thing of convenience and personal choice.

The almighty Gradient Map:

We’ve finally got to the fun part! To get started, add a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer on top of our image.

In a nutshell; a Gradient Map applies a regular color gradient over our image, but instead of cover it up, uses its lightness and darkness values to tell the gradient which color will be mapped to which value of the image.


After that tongue-twister, let’s have a look at a visual cue:

This is why I prefer having my image converted to grayscale first, so I can have a clear visual representation of its values.

This is how the Gradient Map looks at it anyway. It ignores all color information and only pays attention to tones of gray.

Artists just wanna have fun:

My favorite part of this method, is that you can do whatever you want with your gradient and you’ll never end up breaking anything. So you have a HUGE room for experimentation. If you’re just getting started, play around with two-color gradients.

Anything goes here, just keep in mind that you’re creating a background and you’ll need room for other elements in your composition.

I love the retro feel this gradient has to it.

These are the colors I used for this gradient:

  • Stop 1: R=36, G=0, B=47
  • Stop 2: R=20, G=108, B=103
  • Stop 3: R=255, G=204, B=2

Now, you can test your background, adding just a couple of text elements. You’ll basically end up creating a finished poster in just a couple of minutes.

That’s why I LOVE this technique, it keeps you working and generating ideas, without even thinking about it.

Versatility is the name of the game:

Challenge yourself and keep playing around with the same image. Save a copy if you like the result, delete all text elements and reset your Gradient Map.

For a different feel I used only shades of blue here.

These are the colors I used for this gradient:

  • Stop 1: R=0, G=0, B=0
  • Stop 2: R=27, G=27, B=55
  • Stop 3: R=0, G=158, B=244

This color scheme, inspired me in a total different way. If we compare the first exercise against this one, would be kind of difficult to tell at first that we’ve used the same background image for both.


Here’s a third experiment in a row:

This one has a more ‘electronic’ feel to it, less realistic to to say, which sometimes it’s a good thing.

These are the colors I used for this gradient:

  • Stop 1: R=31, G=0, B=115
  • Stop 2: R=112, G=4, B=145
  • Stop 3: R=255, G=62, B=19

And the result is a design with a completely different design which has little to do with the first two we made.

If you can create many variations out of a single image, just imagine the possibilities you’ll get by keep looking for more ‘useless’ images in your photo gallery.

Do this exercise periodically and save your favorite experiments to start building a library of ideas, ready to shine whenever a creative block strikes.

Have fun and stay safe!

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