How to Create a Movie Poster Using Adobe Photoshop
Some of the magic that comes out of Hollywood are the movie posters created for each film. When I think of film, a lot of what I remember are the stunning visuals that are created as a companion and as advertisements for each movie. Think of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park. The list of films that have incredible and iconic movie posters is endless. For every movie poster there’s so much attention and detail that’s put into each composited image, so I decided to put myself to the challenge. For this movie poster I decided to create a Stranger Things movie poster. For millennials and adults alike, Stranger Things has become a pop culture icon and I knew I wanted to take on that challenge.
I started by planning out my shots and other free images to incorporate into my final composited movie poster. I had Kaleigh and Kiley help out by modeling for four of the shots I would be using. Here’s is the reference image I used for this movie poster:
I found a nice gravel road that I could use as my background and started shooting. For each model, including myself, I took two photos. One with the model correctly exposed within the environment and another where I added a Yongnuo IV speedlight to mimic the flashlights seen in the reference image. As a the background and foundation of this entire project I took a picture of the background with no models. Thankfully in the background there were rows of trees and bushes that gave a similar feeling to the original poster. With my images shot, I took them into Photoshop to begin my post-processing.
For images like this, post-processing is SO CRUCIAL. I wouldn’t have been able to create this movie poster without the Adobe Photoshop software. The image that was used as the background layer was the background shot. Here’s what it looked like straight out of camera:
In camera raw I adjusted the image to be more blue with the tint slider, raised the shadows, decreased the highlights, and adjusted the hue and saturation of the yellows and greens. Once in photoshop I colorized the entire image as blue using a hue/saturation adjustment layer. I wanted to keep the bushes shown on the right for both sides of the image, so I created a duplicate layer of the bush layer, added a layer mask, and with a soft black brush I drew in the areas on the right of the image to reveal the bushes on the right. With a little bit of tweaking and using the gradient tool on the layer mask, I got my image to where I liked it.
For the images of the building and satellite dish I used free images from unsplash.com. They both were lit well by the sun, so in photoshop I applied a couple of clipping masks to each individual image to create a dark silhouette. For each I added curves, hue/saturation, and levels adjustment layer clipping masks to mimic the poster. For each (satellite and building) I grouped the adjustment layers to each in a group by hitting Command + G. On the building group I added a layer mask, and with the gradient tool selected on the mask I used that to create the effect of the building being behind the trees in camera right.
For the next layers I got started on the photos of the models. I started with Kiley, who is the center back of the image. In camera raw I used similar adjustments that I used for the background image. I brought up the shadows, lowered the highlights and whites, increased contrast, and desaturated and darkened the yellows and greens on that photo. In Adobe Photoshop I used the quick selection tool to select Kiley from the background. With the refine edge tool in the “Select and Mask” module I refined my selection around her hair and any other edges I might have missed with the quick selection tool. The hardest part of all of the selections were masking out the background within the bike spokes. With the polygonal lasso tool I continued to select those parts of the background shown through the bike spokes. Once I was done with the selection I hit the “add layer mask” button and it created a layer where Kiley and her bike were selected and the background were masked out. Using the move tool (V) I moved the image of Kiley to my main file. Under the free transform menu I tweaked the image so it would match the right perspective with “Perspective” and “Warp” tools. From Adobe Bridge I brought the second image I took of Kiley, this one including the speedlight, emulating the flashlights in the reference photo. On top of the selection layer of Kiley, I lowered the opacity of this second photo so I could adjust it on top of the model layer to look like it was sitting on top of the bike. After transforming the image to where I wanted I brought up the opacity of the layer to 100% and added in a layer mask. On the layer mask I started brushing away at the parts of the photo that didn’t include the light with a soft black brush. On top of these two layers I added the same colorizing adjustments I used for the background layer and dropped the opacity.
In reference to the original photo, I took a picture of a bike lying on the ground. I brought the selection of that bike into my main file and with the free transform tool, adjusted it so that it would have correct perspective. I duplicated that layer. I selected the original layer and hitting Command + U, I adjusted the lightness of the bike to be black. Going up to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, I added blur to create a soft shadow below the bike layer. I then lowered the opacity of the shadow layer to create a soft, realistic shadow. To top off the post-processing of this model I grouped those layers together according to each iage. For each of the models shown in the final composite, I used the same steps. Here’s what the photo looked like up to that point:
The remaining layers are all about colorizing the entire image. I first started with the bike lights. With a yellow brush I painted in the direct light the flashlights would’ve emitted and used the Screen blending mode. I create this for all three bikes. As light drops off I used a lower opacity brush and painted in on a different layer how the light fall off would occur.
In the reference image the shadows contain a lot of dark blues/violets. With several curves and levels adjustment layers I adjusted the image to contain those same hues according to the shadows, midtones, and highlights. As my final colorizing layer I used a gradient map adjustment layer to create a light violet color in the shadows gradiated to a light yellow color in the highlights. I then lowered the opacity of the layer to around 45%.
My next step was to create the title and body copy. For the Title font I used a free font from dafont.com called Beguit. For the body copy I used Neou bold.
My final edits to my movie poster was to create fog/mist for the entire image and to add in shadows. On a new blank layer I used a blue brush to color in the areas where it should be darker. On that layer I also used a Multiply blending mode. On a different layer I changed the color of my brush to a light gray. I painted on this layer with a low opacity so I could build the color. For this specific layer I concentrated my painting in the highlights to give the lights a feel of shooting through fog. I then slightly lowered the opacity of that layer. On my final layer of fog I used the same brush color and lowered the opacity more. For this layer I concentrated the fog in the shadows, background near Kiley, and the foreground area.
For the shadows I went down to the group containing my self-portrait and duplicated the layer of myself. With the bottom layer I adjusted the lightness so it would be black. With the free transform tool (Command + T) I rotated the top of the bike toward camera right, giving the illusion that the light spillage hitting my bike would have a shadow effect. I then lowered the opacity of that layer. On the other bikes I added a new layer and with a low opacity black brush I added shadowing to the ground, under the bikes and also added additional shading to other areas around the edges. Here’s the final image: