Photography and Visual Novels


Photography and Visual Novels

This seems like a great idea at first. Photographs are as photorealistic as they get! Additionally Photographs are dirt cheap these days. Just about everyone these days has access to a camera of some kind and digital photos don’t need developed.

Unfortunately, using photographs as background art for your visual novel does have some caveats.

The Rules of Visual Novel Photo Backgrounds

Rule 1: Sensible Perspective

The perspective of your photo must make sense from a Visual Novel perspective.

Good Perspective is about eye level for your main character.

Once you pick a perspective, stick with it.

In general the perspective of your photo should be something your main character could see themselves.

That can be different from the height the photographer likes to shoot at.

If your main character is of normal height, photos can be taken normally.

If the main character is a giant or can fly, drone shots might be a good way to establish their perspective.

If the main character is very small, like a gnome or fairy, the photographer should get low to the ground in their shots.

The important thing is not to mix these without good reason. If the photo is taken from the ground and the player character isn’t a pixie, then the player character had better be lying on the ground for some reason.

Be Interesting

There are lots of cool things out in the world.

There are lots of boring things out in the world.

Photograph the cool stuff, not the boring stuff.

A picture of a cool building is probably going to look better then a picture of whatever building was closest to you.

A picture of a sick nasty ravine or waterfall is cooler then the entrance of a hiking trail.

A university football stadium is going to look bigger and better then most small town fields.

There is an exception to this: The visual novel takes place in a setting that is boring. Then be as boring as possible.

Subject matter should be Interesting, and be thematically appropriate.

Example Scene: A Hallway at a Wealthy School

Good subject matter here might be a nice hallway at an University.

Bad subject matter here would be a small hallway in your own home.

Photos should have good lighting, and minimum grain.

As a rule of thumb

If a better photo can’t be taken, it should be made fit with editing.

Unfortunately, even if you follow these rules, Players will almost certainly hate photo backgrounds, even those that use good composition, have interesting subject matter, and are well edited.

Because it’s so straightforward to just slap a photo in a visual novel, many low quality visual novels will resort to this to get background art quickly out of the way. For many players, the presence of photos as background art screams that a developer did not take their game seriously.

It will probably clash with your artstyle too. (Please don’t cut out pictures of real people for your sprites either.)

Use a Photograph, but put a filter over it.

Come on, your players are used to tricks like this! It’s even more tacky then just using a photograph straight. Unless you know what you’re doing it will look terrible too. That’s not saying you can’t do it of course. Read Only Memories did a good job with this in some of their promotional materials, by constantly switching through different scenes, and using a very stylized filter. (The game itself was pure pixel art though.)

The Solution?

So you can’t afford an artist, and the other solutions won’t work. How will you make your background art now?

What if I told you you could use an Art Machine?

union small


Turn this photograph…

Neural Style

Into this artwork?

This solution has the following caveats.

  • You either need a computer with a Nvidia GPU and 4GB or more of VRAM or a bit of money to rent one on AWS.
  • Command lines can’t scare you, and neither can a complicated setup process.
  • You need to be able to troubleshoot when things go wrong.
  • It’s probably not as good as a real artist.
  • The composition and content of your photographs still really matter.
  • You need some artwork that you can use a style template. I used Creative Commons 0 licenced artwork from the Met.

Just install Neural Style and run it on some pictures you want to style transfer.

That’s easier said then done of course. Be warned that the quickstart guide is out of date, particularly with installing libqt4. If you just search for whatever error messages you encounter, you’ll be fine.

Keep in mind that achieving higher resolutions on even high end cards requires some tuning. You might want to scale them using software like waifu2x (Also uses Neural Networks, So Cool!)


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.