Despite the rise of social media campaigns, interviews and trailers, the poster is still usually our first glimpse into the world of a film. A great film poster for a great film can become iconic in the years following a film’s release, sparking the rush of excitement and anticipation we felt when we first saw it.

At its best, a film poster captures our hearts and minds, propelling us into the film’s narrative and satisfying our very human need for stories. To fulfil this need, a poster will usually feature a character (or characters) that we can relate to or empathise with.

If the face fits

 If the film you are working on features named actors of any kind, the chances are that the producers will want one or all of them to appear prominently on the poster. This can sometimes interfere with the creative vision you are given as an artist but with a little knowledge of how character photography is used in poster design, it is always possible to find an innovative solution.

Below, I explore some of the popular ways to use faces and figures in film posters, and how they contribute to the story being told.

Full face

 A classic way to show off a popular lead actor – this traditionally displays their face front and centre with little else to distract. It is often used for horror films – as it’s the perfect way to display the fear in a character’s eyes – but can be used for anything that requires the audience to closely identify with a feeling or a character.

Variations on this design include the face being partially cut off or obscured (suggesting a mystery of some kind) and the face being distorted – either for horror purposes or to convey a narrative element – such as in Moonlight where it suggests a character changing as they grow up.

Moonlight, her & Midsommar poster examples


Often used with two actors of similar standing – two faces side by side (Face Off) or face to face (Captain America: Civil War) can be used to express an adversarial relationship between the characters. An alternative version of this poster can show the opposite however – if the two faces are touching (Adrift), it tends to show an intimacy between the characters.

Face/Off, Captain America Civil War, & Adrift poster examples

Faces in the crowd

A super popular choice for Marvel’s comic book adaptations, the many faces line up usually features A LOT of very famous people. It’s traditionally structured in a hierarchal fashion according to the characters’ importance in the narrative – but this idea can get thrown out of alignment by dominant stars with powerful agents. The characters in these posters typically do not interact with each other or the background.

Avengers Endgame, Star Wars The Force Awakens & Black Panther poster examples

Full length

Usually one or two actors appear on the poster in this form. One figure often depicts a character in a powerful pose – suggesting who the narrative will revolve around. This character is sometimes silhouetted, especially if the character is already iconic.

Two figures indicates a relationship between the characters will be central to the plot. The two characters back to back is a pretty unnatural pose (in real life) that is generally used to show the ‘chalk and cheese’ nature of two characters in a comedy.

Resident Evil The Final Chapter, 21 Jump Street & Wonder Woman poster examples

Small but mighty

A small figure on a huge landscape is a powerful visual device but usually renders the actor virtually unrecognisable. This is most effective if the actor is a) unknown, b) so famous they have name recognition alone (Tom Cruise in Oblivion) or c) the popularity of the subject matter overrides that of the actor (Bohemian Rhapsody/The Hobbit).

Oblivion, Bohemian Rhapsody & The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey poster examples

Slice of life

Ultimately, whether you are working to a tight brief or have free rein, using character photography in a film poster is a chance to give people a glimpse into another world. (If you can) choose images that provoke an emotional reaction in you – be that excitement, trepidation or joy – and you will be on your way to creating a compelling poster.

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