Digital Head Swapping: Not As Gross As It Sounds

eHow Tech Blog

Head swap tipsSometimes perfect pictures don’t come out of the camera fully formed. Generally, when I have a group of three people or more, I know in the back of my mind that I might have to perform a little head swapping in Photoshop. It’s not my favorite thing to do, as it can be time consuming, but here are a few tips to think about with swapping heads.

  1. When taking the picture, have as solid of a background as possible. This isn’t always as easy to control, but a grove of trees is much easier to work with than a cluster of buildings.
  2. When possible, use a tripod to take group pictures, so that your camera won’t be moving and it will be easier to swap similar images.
  3. Swap the images before fully editing your image, so that the color temperature will be identical.

The image at the top of the page was the final image, after the head swaps. Here is what I started with:

How to Head SwapNot only is the youngest child in the middle not smiling, but his brother isn’t, either. You can see pedestrians on the street on the far left, too.

To fix this, I was able to use the smiling boy faces from this image that I had taken earlier. It’s not a perfect photo either, but by combining them, I could make one shot that was really nice:


There are any number of ways to perform a head swap. If you want to do it quick and dirty, you can get pretty good results with “Photo Fuse,” a feature built into the free program Windows Photo Gallery. To do that, just select two or more versions of a portrait, choose Photo Fuse on the Create tab, and select the part of the “final photo you want to replace, and select the corresponding part of other images.

That said, I prefer to use Photoshop. Here is the way I do it in that program:

  1. Use the rectangular marquee tool.  It draws a box around the area you’d like to swap. This doesn’t work as well with busy background, but with the simple sky here, it works.  I’d use the Magnetic Lasso tool if the background was trickier.
  2. Copy that selection (Control+C) in the first image and paste it  (Control+V) onto the second image.
  3. Drag that selection over to the top of where you’d like it. In this case, you’re moving the “good” head over the “bad” head, covering it.
  4. After lining up the head the best I can, I hit the rectangle marquee tool, and it removes the outline.  I can tell if I need to re-shift the head, at that point.
  5. Flatten the layers to clean up the edges.
  6. To clean up the edges, I’ll use the “Patch” tool (as I would to clean up blemishes on faces, too) and blend the background into it self to make it more smooth.

The bottom line: If you don’t always have that perfect shot, you can create it!

 Photo credit: Kristen Duke

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