Dynamic responsive background images

by Michael Scharnagl

This article has been updated the last time on January 3, 2016 and the given information may be not accurate anymore. Feel free to contact me on twitter to get more details.

This morning I saw a Tweet from Anselm Hannemann asking »What’s the best way to add dynamic responsive background images?« and after some quick tests I came up with the following solution.

Here is the HTML:

<div class="bg-image">
  <h1>Dynamic Background</h1>

Then we add some general CSS:

.bg-image {
  position: relative;
  background-size: cover;
  height: 20em;

And now comes the interesting part, let’s assume we use PHP and have access to the following dynamic background images and sizes we then can use in our HTML:

$image['small'] // contains the value for the small image for a post, eg. '/postid/small.jpg'
$image['big'] // contains the value for the big image for a post, eg. '/postid/big.jpg'

Now we can add an <style> element to the <head> of our site defining the different background images for different sizes:

@media all and (min-width: 501px) {
      .bg-image {
        background: url(<?php echo $image['big'] ?>) no-repeat 0 0;
    @media all and (max-width: 500px) {
      .bg-image {
        background: url(<?php echo $image['small'] ?>) no-repeat 0 0;

By using min-width and max-width media queries we ensure that only the appropriate image is loaded. For more info see this test by Tim Kadlec.

In this example, I used PHP (yes old style, but simplest for me to set up the tests), but you can use this technique also with other languages and also on static sites (eg. Jekyll).

I also put together a demo on jsbin to demonstrate it. If you find any disadvantages or improvements of this technique please let me know on twitter.

Michael Scharnagl

Portrait Michael Scharnagl

Follow me: @justmarkup

Subscribe to RSS: /feed

A freelance front-end developer focusing on HTML5, CSS, progressive enhancement and web performance.