Introduction: How to Make a Movie Poster

With any film being released, a huge part of the process is advertising it. Most producers do this by creating a poster that can be posted online and outside the theater. The poster needs to be eye catching, while showing the audience what the movie is about. Poster design is just one part of advertising when it comes to releasing a film, but the skills used in making it can be applied to any promotional pieces created.

Standard for Technological Literacy used is Standard 17: Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use information and communication technologies.

Learning Objectives: Understand and be able to use basic photography and lighting skills, as well as moderate Photoshop proficiency.
Target audience: High School ages and up. Any participant who has moderate competency with photography and Photoshop. This is preferred, as any participant without any of these skills will still be able to learn from this tutorial and create something of decent quality.


- Camera (While a DSLR camera would allow for better quality, most modern smartphones have a camera that will be good enough for this project).

- Computer (With Photoshop)

- Lights (Any light source that is maneuverable so that it can be altered such as a desk lamp. Preferably two lights but one will be enough)

- A subject for the poster (It can be anything! I will explain later with an example.)

Cost Estimation: $0 (assuming the participant owns a smartphone and Photoshop. Photoshop also offers a free 7 day trial)

Step 1: Planning

The first step to any design project is to plan out what needs to be done before you actually start so that you can get all the necessary supplies. The first step is to decide what will be on our poster. Since this is not based off of a specific movie, simply pick any object in your house that you want to be the star of the movie! This could be a person, water bottle, laptop, or anything else. For this project, try to find an object that is bigger than your phone and no bigger than a person. Also for those new to Photoshop, the smoother the object's silhouette is, the easier it will be later in the piece. That means a person with all of their hair and clothes will be much more difficult to work with than a simple water bottle. Try to pick something in your comfort zone!

For this tutorial I found a decorative piranha that I will use as my star. Again, the subject you use is up to you, it's whatever you want your movie to be about!

Step 2: Setup

To set up the shot there are three major aspects that need to be looked at: Lighting, Camera Angle, and Background. Each of these aspects need to work with each other in order for the final product to come out good.

First, find a space that you can take the picture. The next few steps will go into the details of these three aspects, but for now we will find a spot. The place you put your subject needs to be slightly elevated so that you can get your camera a bit below the middle of the object. The back ground should be around a foot behind the subject, and will be a solid color (This could be a solid colored wall like mine, or using a sheet of paper or a bed sheet to create a wall. Whatever you use, just make sure it is one solid color with as little texture as possible.) Finally, make sure there is room in front of your subject to put two light sources. One light source can work, but two will be optimal to get the desired effect.

The setup does not have to look professional, it just has to work!

Step 3: Lighting

Lighting is a crucial part to any photo manipulation you do. While you can add lights digitally if you want, using real life lights before you take the picture is the best way to get an accurate picture that can be altered if desired. For our purpose, we need to remember what we want our photo to say. We want an eye catching subject that looks as if it is popping out of the screen. There are plenty of different ways to do this, but for this project I will show you a simple and effective method. With two lights (I am using two desk lamps) place them in front of the subject, below the subject and the camera. Turn the lights on the lowest setting as to not create harsh lighting, and back them away until you get a desired light strength. As pictured in the setup step, there should be a light on the left and right. If you only have one light, place it closer to the center (between the camera and the subject) and move it slightly towards whatever side works for your subject.

Notice how the added lights really brighten the subject and emphasis the details

Step 4: Camera Angle

For this project, we are going to use a close-up low-angle shot on our subject. Close up shots are when the camera is brought closer to the subject to separate it from the background, while the low angle shot will make the subject look bigger than it really is. Both of these put together will create an eye catching image that pops out at the viewer!

To get this shot, place your camera below the "eye level" of your subject. This simply means put your camera below the middle of the subject, and aim it upwards. Make sure the camera is close enough to the subject so that the front of it is in focus. I placed my camera a few inches away from my subject, but a larger subject will require more distance from it. If possible, get the front of your subject in focus and the back part of it out of focus. This is a separate lesson altogether, but having the front of your subject in focus and the rest out of focus or "blurry" will create a stronger sense of the object jumping out of the screen at you.

Step 5: Take the Picture!

Once you have everything setup from the previous steps, go ahead and take your picture! Take a bunch, making sure that you have at least a handful to pick through. Try slightly different angles and distances to get the one you want. Make sure that the entirety of the subject in the picture is surrounded by the solid color background. This will come in handy later.

Once you have your photos, select the one you want to work with it and upload it to your computer. If you are using a camera, plug the camera in the computer or take out the memory card and plug that in. If you are using your phone, you can email it, text, or any method you want to get it to your computer. Make sure the quality stays the same once you have it uploaded!

Step 6: Photoshop Pt.1

Once you have the picture on your computer, go ahead and open Photoshop. Instead of clicking "create new..." click the button that says "open...". This button will on the opening page, as well as under the file tab in the top left. Once you do so, click the picture you took. Once you have the picture up, it is time to cut out the subject from the background. In the lower right section under "Layers" click the lock icon so that the layer can be edited. Now, click the Quick Selection Tool. This can be found on the left side, or by clicking "W". Change the size of the cursor until it is about 100 pts, or until the circle is a bit bigger than the size of your computer mouse. Now, click and drag (as if you were drawing) on your subject until there is a line around the outline of your object. The tool can be confusing so keep playing with different sizes and zooming in and out until you get as clean of a line as possible.

Once you have an outline of your subject, click the button "add layer mask" at the bottom of the layer panel. This will erase the background that you selected without deleting it, just turning it invisible. To edit what is visible and invisible, simply click on the newly created layer mask in the layers panel and use any tool you want to color. Using the color black will turn whatever you draw invisible, while the color white will make it visible.

Once you have the subject cut out of the background, it is time to add a background!

Step 7: Photoshop Pt.2

It's time to find a background for your poster. Try to find something that goes along with your subject! It's your movie, so get creative and think of something that you think would look good. Since my subject is a piranha, I am going to find an underwater scene! You can use the website to find high quality royalty free pictures. Once you have a picture downloaded, drag the picture on to your Photoshop screen and it will add it as a layer. Drag that layer under the one with the subject.

We are pretty close to getting the final product! The rest of this project will be adding details and moving things around to get a final picture that we will be proud of.

Before we move forward though we need to crop the picture in order to get the classic movie poster look. Using the crop tool (Hotkey is "C") use the settings on the top of the screen to set the ratio to 24 x 36. This will crop the entire canvas, not just the layer selected. Once we have this done, we can work on positioning and composition.

Now that we have our subject cut out and on a background, use the move tool (Hotkey is "V") to move your subject in the middle. Holding ctrl and t will put whatever layer you have selected into transformation mode. This will allow you to scale and move your picture however you want. The composition can vary a good amount, but remember that we want the subject to be the focus of the picture, so it would be a good idea to have it large and centered, but feel free to get creative!

Step 8: Photoshop Pt.3

Now that our subject is isolated and on a background, you will probably notice that it does not look natural. This is because the background you chose will have a large impact on what your subject will look like. When we took the picture of the subject it was important to get as much detail as possible so that editing it now would be easier.

Every picture will be different, but for most the first thing to do is match the lighting and colors. With your subject layer selected (make sure it is the picture you have selected not the layer mask we made!) go to image>adjustments>Brightness/Contrast. Since my background is underwater I wanted my subject to be a bit darker with less contrast. Simply play with the settings to see what looks best, or use the auto button and see what the computer recommends. Feel free to play with the other settings under the adjustments tab, all of these can affect how your subject looks. For this project, we are going to skip right to coloring.

Since color is such a dynamic thing in photography, simply changing the hue of our subject is not enough to make it look natural. My subject is underwater, so the subject should reflect that environment by having a shade of blue. To do this, I will be selecting the brush tool (hotkey B) and color the subject. To only color on the subject itself, hold ctrl and click the layer mask window on the layer. This will select the subject and won't allow you to color outside of what you cut out. Now create a new layer at the bottom of the layer panel. Set the opacity to around 40% (this will vary depending on your subject) and set the light type to linear light (found in the layer panel). Now with the hardness on your brush lowered to 0% (found under the brush settings as well as holding alt, clicking the right mouse button and dragging up and down) slowly color in your subject. Only color parts that you believe the color should be. Since my subject is completely underwater, I will be coloring the whole subject a light shade of blue to match the background.

Once you have done this, it is time for shadows and highlights! This is a very similar process to what we just did. With your subject's layer mask still selected, create a layer for shadows and a layer for highlights. The shadows layer will have a lower opacity and will be on multiply layer setting, while the highlights will be on a lower opacity and on lighten layer setting. For the shadows, use a color darker than what you used to color your subject (I used a light blue to color my subject so I used a dark blue for the shadows). The highlights can be a very light version of the color you used, almost white. With these guidelines, color your subject based on where the light source of your background is. In my picture, the light is coming from the top. Because of this, I colored my highlights on the top part of the subject, and I colored the shadows on the bottom. If you believe your shadows aren't dark enough, try adding another layer (Same settings as your shadows layer) but with a very dark color, almost black.

Again, all of this will depend on your subject and background. Continue to play around and experiment until you get something that you think looks good!

Step 9: Typography

Now it is time to add in all the necessary typography so that the viewer understands what the movie is. For most movie posters there is at least a title, a catchphrase, and some additional information such as a release date.

To add writing, start by creating a new layer. Click the type tool (hotkey "T") and drag a box where you want the words to go. We will start with the title. Putting the title in a big font at the top of the poster will draw attention to it more than any other typography on the poster, and since this is the title it is the most important piece of typography on the poster. This is what we want the viewer to see right after the subject. This does not mean that it has to be at the top, it is just a good way to make sure the title is seen. For this project, I will be putting the title at the top.

Once you have dragged your box where you want the title, type out the title of your movie. Be creative! Once you have the title picked out, use the properties window to edit the font type, size, and color. For most movie posters, a big, bold, contrasting title will be the best bet but it is up to you!

Do the same for the tag line and date. The tagline is normally around the subject, somewhere in the middle, while the date is normally towards the bottom. Again this is all up to you, but this format tends to work well.

Also, feel free to rearrange where your subject is in order to get your typography to look good. It will take some adjusting but eventually you will get the right composition for your poster!

Also, one way to help your subject jump out at the viewer is to place the subject layer (as well as all the layers of shadows and highlights) on top of the typography. If you position your subject slightly over the typography, there is an added depth!

Step 10: Finishing Touches

Your poster is looking great (I'm sure!) but we still can add some finishing touches to really get some added shine. Think of this step as adding a filter to an Instagram picture. Yeah the picture looked great on its own, but a nice filter on top can do wonders to the final product.

For this project, we are going to add a small color layer that will act as our filter for the project. To do this, add a new layer (this is the last one I swear) and select the gradient tool (hotkey "G"). In the gradient menu located at the top of the screen, select two colors that you think would add some flavor to the picture. Since my picture is made up of blue and white, I added a blue and pink gradient, but the colors are up to you! Once you have the colors selected, drag your gradient across the picture. I did mine diagonally. Now, go to the layer and change the color type to color burn and set the opacity fairly low (mine is on 25%).

Once you are satisfied with how your filter layer looks, it's time to export! Go to File>Export>Quick export as PNG. This will export your picture into a high quality image that can be used to advertise your movie.

That's it! I hope you had fun creating your movie poster. These skills can be applied for plenty of things related to Photoshop so keep on having fun and creating art!