I want to try and work out how to edit photographs to create the effect seen in the rowing poster below. I have tried messing about in both Photoshop (colour overlays) and Illustrator (live trace) with the original photo and just can't work out how to replicate the style. Can anyone advise?

Rowing Poster

Link to original image for reference: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/man-exercising-on-rowing-machine-hands-93299866?src=pXLm09n5nZ6_8S7E0TBvPA-1-39


4 Answers 4

  1. Open your photographic image in Photoshop;
  2. Choose Filter > Filter Gallery...
  3. Choose Artistic > Cutout and limit the number of levels to 3~5;
  4. Click OK
  5. Open the Layers palette and using the black-white disc icon on the bottom, add a Gradient Map layer;
  6. Change the gradient to one from dark yellow to light yellow.

The technique itself is called thresholding. In this case, the artist chose two (?) threshold levels: one for the darkest 25% and one for about 70-90% brightness. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thresholding_(image_processing) )

So in Photoshop (etc), you make two greyscale copies, each on its own layer. You can then use the levels tool on each to isolate a band of brightness and.or use the threshold tool. You will have more control if you do a single band for each layer than if you try and do a 4-band threshold in one layer.

For use in AI, you can then save each layer out individually, and then in AI, live-trace each one individually. Then overlay them.

If you want to keep it in photoshop, you can use the threshold layers as layer mask for solid color layers.


This kind of simplifying can be done by using Photoshop's Cutout filter. It needs a high quality image If you want a high quality result. Cutout is already discussed in other answers a long time ago.

You can trace the image to vector domain. Even a low-resolution photo can give printable results.

To be able to trace the image, adjust it's levels to cover a wide range of brightness walues in all important image areas such as faces and technically important details. In this low resolution photo the face really needed a contrast boost to make the smile visible. Without the boost it would need more levels to the tracing.

enter image description here

(BW. This image is a fully legal copy)

I added an adjustment layer "curves" for the contrast and a layer mask to prevent the rowing machine to burn full white. Photoshop also is the right place to remove the unwanted details such as the bottom shadow (=done). This all is valid also for cutout filtering.

Next do a greyshade tracing in Illustrator or other vector image editor.

I want more control, so I make a few single treshold BW tracings. I put one treshold to near white, other is quite dark and a couple of traces in the middle. The tresholds are adjusted for good shaping of the details. The face is most important here. I want to use Inkscape instead of illustrator due much more easier control just in this case. Illustrator is used, if I want trace strokes. Inkscape traces easily only fills.

enter image description here

Next I align the traces, make them partially transparent and give colors to them. Also a background is added. Note that the coloring of the traces can be arbitary. The path simplifying is useful. I took Inkscape's default simplifying.

enter image description here

Trace stacking order: Largest (=brightest treshold) is at the bottom and the smallest (=darkest treshold) is on the top.

Lousy preprocessing and treshold selection both appear as missing or unwanted parts. They can be partially still fixed by drawing patches that cover something or replace it. Here I added a floor and a shadow (=was removed in the beginning). The colors are adjusted.

The patched result: enter image description here

Because this is a vector image, it can be exported in as big size as wanted.

  1. Mask the image to remove the background. There are various ways to do this, using magic wand, selection dialog, paint masking, and so on.
  2. Increase the contrast of the image using filters or adjustments (such as Threshold) to get the effect that you want.
  3. Create a duotone image using a selected color, such as yellow as in your example. A duotone is a continuous-tone image (photo) rendered using another color in place of white.

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