Photoshop tutorial: Design a highbrow horror-movie poster

Karim Fakhoury explains how to create a creepy, unsettling piece of poster art


Intelligent, spooky horror movies and TV shows are enjoying a resurgence at the moment. From The Woman in Black and The Devil Inside to living-room frighteners such as American Horror Story, axe murderers seem to be coming in from the cold while teenagers in their underwear are being replaced by ghosts and unsettling visions.

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Here Karim Fakhoury reveals how he composed an artwork that taps into this – a montage of a hunched figure under a tree, circled by ravens, harbingers of death in North American folklore. It’s an image that could easily be combined with some elegant typography for a film or TV promo poster.

Follow the tutorial to learn how to compose an image to draw the eye, create a spooky background and combine the elements seamlessly. You’ll also discover a great way to produce top-notch cutouts of intricate shapes.

This artwork was created using freely available elements including a model shot (from, a tree (, a paper texture (, some cracked earth ( and two fabric textures ( and 

Time to complete

4 hours



Step 1

Step 2


Using a round soft white brush (B) with a Soft Light blending mode, apply white paint to lighten all except the very bottom of the image. Next, use a black brush with an Overlay blending mode to darken the bottom area in order to get the result shown. 

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Step 3


Select the ‘Create new fill or adjustment layer’ button in the Layers panel and create a Gradient Map adjustment layer with a black-to-white gradient. Change that layer’s blending mode to Color, with an opacity of 65%. 

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Next, using the same technique as in Step 2, apply a soft white brush in Soft Light blending mode all over the centre of the piece. This will bring more light into this area, drawing the eye to where we will put our main elements. 

Step 4


undefinedPlace the image of cracked earth from Hit Cmd/Ctrl + T to begin a Free Transform operation on the image, then right-click on it and choose the Distort option. The idea is to give a perspective effect to the cracks on the ground.

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To do this, bring the two top corners towards the middle and bring the centre of the bottom edge upwards (as shown). When you feel you have the correct perspective, give this layer a Multiply blending mode and softly erase (E) the corners of the photo to make it blend more naturally with the background.

Step 5


Open the model shot from Cut out the character using the Pen tool (P) and place it in the middle of the composition. Then, using the same perspective as in Step 4, create a round shadow underneath the model, using a round soft black brush with a Soft Light blending mode. 

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Step 6


To select your character, Cmd/Ctrl + click on her layer thumbnail. Create a Gradient Map layer going from black to white with an opacity of 75%. Duplicate this layer and give it a Soft Light blending mode to lighten it and boost the contrast. 

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Step 7


Next, select a black brush and use the grass brush shape (number 134) from the default set. Paint some grass growing out of the character’s back as seen here. I also painted some black smoke coming off her back to make it even more creepy.

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Step 8


Open the image of a tree from Double-click the Background layer to unlock it and rename it ‘Tree’. Duplicate it once. Create a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer with the Contrast set to 100.

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Next, duplicate the adjustment layer three times and merge them all with the ‘Tree’ layer. Once done, you should have two layers in your Layers panel – one with the picture of the tree in high contrast, and below this the original picture.

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Step 9


Take the Magic Wand tool (W), right-click on the white area of the high-contrast picture and select Color Range. Use a Fuzziness of 200 and click OK. Invert the selection (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I).

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Hide the high-contrast image, select the original layer, copy the selected area and paste it into your artwork. Place the base of the tree slightly below the grass you painted in Step 7, and carefully erase the overlap.

Step 10


Open each of the two fabric pictures (from and, and convert them to black and white using a Gradient Map adjustment layer going from black to white. Paste the two pictures into your artwork and give each a blending mode of Screen. Place them where they will look wrapped around the model’s body, and erase any unwanted material. 

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Step 11


On a new layer, paint some roots coming from the bottom of the tree and spreading over the character’s body. You’ll need to use a black brush of radius 1 or 2 pixels.

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Step 12


Add some movement to the composition by including ravens in the scene (I got mine from a range of stock websites). Cut them out carefully and place them where they can help make the composition less linear and static. 

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Step 13


To finalise everything, spend some time subtly adjusting the tones and contrast to get the perfect creepy feel. When your piece is finished, use a sharpness filter for a starker look and to help tie the elements together. Select the topmost layer, hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E to create a new merged layer from them and select Filter> Sharpen > Sharpen.

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About the artist: Karim Fakhoury


Karim Fakhoury, 19, is a freelance graphic designer from Montreal, Canada. Since a young age, he has been passionate about visual arts and computers, and now he is able to combine both. Karim has an ability to convey sentiment through the characters he creates, often in surreal or magical settings.

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