Designing Film Posters

When I first became serious about learning Photoshop, I was overwhelmed because I had learned so many new skills but was at a loss for understanding how to apply them.

I was quite interested in portrait retouching, photo compositing, and working with text elements to create a story and I wanted to get better at each one. I found that designing movie posters was a fantastic way to practice all three skills simultaneously and since I started, it has become my favourite exercise in Photoshop.

For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll describe my process according to the three major elements I encounter when creating a film poster; the subjects, the composition, and the text.

The Subjects

Personally, I find that choosing the subjects of the poster is the easiest part of the creative process. Whether I get an idea from another artwork or I imagine an original piece, I usually have an easy time finding the individual elements I want to work with.

I work mostly with royalty free stock photos which I find on The photos I find here are often of a high quality in terms of image size which makes them much easier to work with. It’s always easier to scale down than it is to scale up. Their collection of available photos grows every day so there is a wide variety of impressive photos to choose from.

Using my Seven Teens Movie Poster as an example, I will tell you that the piece is comprised of thirteen different images. These include the (7) people, (2) aeroplanes, (1) car, (1) cloudscape, (1) landscape, and (1) skyline. By the time I selected those final thirteen photos to use, I had saved forty-five stock photos as resource considerations.

This is not uncommon for me when creating an original piece. I’ll make a new directory with the name of the project and I’ll create a sub directory into which I save all my stock photos I might use for the project. I tend to keep my unused stock photos and place them in a universal folder that I might use for a later project.

In conclusion, choose high-resolution stock resources to work with and don’t be afraid to save more than you’ll need. Save any resources you would consider and then narrow the photos down once you have a small collection from which to make a final decision.

The Composition

After having had some practice with compositing, I will say that such is a skill able to be learned. Photoshop allots myriad tools at the user’s disposal to take many disparate images and compose a piece that looks wonderfully natural. Sometimes it takes effort to blend those pieces well enough for a believable composition, but it’s not too difficult once you have some practice.

Learn to use image adjustments and layer masks. Those two tools help greatly when taking dissimilar elements and making them look as if they belong together. I use image adjustments frequently when retouching portraits, and those skills can make the difference between a beautiful composition and one that looks poorly wrought.

Especially when working with human subjects, the stock photos I use all come with various lighting and colours. I work a lot with levels, curves, hue/saturation, and colour balance adjustments to make my various subjects look as if they were all part of the same picture.

Regarding my previous example of Seven Teens Movie Poster having thirteen elements, it’s not always necessary to have so many pieces to create a decent composition. My Surrender Movie Poster project has only two elements; the stairs and the ocean water. Regardless of how many photos you wish to composite, there are easy tips that might help make the process easier.

Once you have all your subjects, figuring out how to put them together can be a challenge. Keep these ideas in mind when making a composite.

Use a soft break to blend two hard edges. In many posters, you might find the use of clouds to be appropriate to hide the sharp edges of two different components.

Gradients can also work wonders along with reducing opacity of the elements at the points in which they meet. Colour fading is also a great technique where an image gradually fades into a solid colour layer underneath.

Lastly, shadows work well to hide hard breaks which is why I think working in black and white is fun and also much simpler than working with vibrant pieces. If you have trouble blending, try working with purely black and white pieces for practice. See my Ghost Tracer Movie Poster for a good example.

The Text

Admittedly, the text elements of a film poster are the ones I still have trouble working with. There are so many fonts available for free or purchase online which makes it seem as if the options are endless. When it comes to typography, I don’t have formal training in design, but I do work with typefaces frequently through my work as a web developer.

I intentionally kept this section last because the text is always the last part of my project. The text is meant to match the project and the theme of the composition. You can also work in reverse which makes for a fun exercise where you create a composition to match a particular font.

However, I often add the text last. I look at my piece as it is in the current, unfinished state and determine what it is in essence. Is my piece classy? If so, I might like a serif or script font. Is my piece bold and modern? Perhaps a sans serif or handwritten font would be best. Is my piece provocative? I would try a thin sans serif paired with a decorative accent font.

If you have trouble choosing fonts for your artwork text, try searching similar pieces to your composition. Does your artwork have science fiction, adventure, horror, romantic, humourous themes? Find pieces of a similar theme and see what fonts they are using. If my method of matching font to composition doesn’t work, I then do a search to see what other posters have done properly.