Guide: How to turn any image into a nice background for WP8.1

Wanna use a specific image as a background for your start screen in WP8.1? Maybe an image that's personal and important to you, or just a nice photo that you took yourself?

As you probably have noticed, many images don't look good on the start screen - some make the tiles hard to read, some make the start screen look cluttered, some make it look inconsistent with the rest of the phone's UI.

I've experimented with many different types of images and found that these are the things that make a background look nice: Visually easy to distinguish from tile content; Not distracting from tile content; Delightful to look at; Aesthetically consistent with the rest of the phone's UI.

I've found that almost any image can look like that by applying simple editing techniques: Reducing contrast, increasing brightness, adjusting color to theme color, increasing color saturation, blurring. These effects are subtle, but they just make the start screen look so much prettier and cleaner!

If you want to try this with your own images, follow the instructions below this sample image!

BEFORE editing:

Wp_ss_20140415_0011_12_medium

AFTER editing:

Wp_ss_20140415_0013_14_medium

As you can see, the background looks more separated from the icons and text, the tiles are more easily readable, and the image looks brighter and more colorful, and matches the phone's theme color.

Step-by-step:

  1. Open the image in the built-in Photos app in Windows 8.1 or Windows RT 8.1. (Since I use the app in German, I might get some of the terms wrong - but I'm sure you'll know what I mean!). Bring up the app bar (swipe from bottom or right click) ad tap edit.
  2. Tapping light on the left brings up four controls on the right. Turn shadows up, until there are no dark parts in the image. Turn highlights up, until bright parts of the image look like they "glow". If the image is still very dark, turn up brightness. Turn contrast up - but not too high (you don't wanna make the darker parts of the image too dark).
  3. Tapping color on the left side brings up another four controls. Adjust temperature and tint to bring out the color that matches your phone's theme color. (For example, for the image above, I set temperature to -60 and tint to -33, to create a "bluish" look that matches the blue theme color, but still subtle enough to allow the other colors in the image to shine through.) Then turn saturation up a little bit, to make the image look just as vivid as other parts of the Metro UI.
  4. And finally, tap effects on the left, which brings up the selective focus control on the right. Place the area of focus onto what you think is the most interesting part of the image, by dragging it and changing its size. Make sure that only a small part of the image is in focus - most of it should be blurred! Tap the icon in the bottom left corner and select "maximum". DONE!