Photoshop Tutorial: 9 Quick Steps for Head Swapping / Face Transplant

Sometimes, as photographers, we need to switch things around in Photoshop for a better picture.

I recently had a session with a lovely family on historic Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham. I positioned my client in the middle of the brick street, snapped a few shots, backed up, and took a few more. There was one in this series that was the winner… almost. The only problem was that Mom was in the middle of a laugh.


Here’s how I head swap and transplant the Mom’s face…

Step 1. Open original photo and photo with desired face.


Step 2. Using the selection tool, I selected Mom’s smiling face plus a little extra and copied (PC: Control + C OR Mac: Command + C).


Step 3. I pasted (PC: Control + V OR Mac: Command + V) the desired face into the original photo.


Step 4. Reduce the opacity so that I can see through the desired face easily.


Step 5. I lined up Mom’s faces using the transform tool (PC: Control + T OR Mac: Command + T). I had to not only line up the faces, but the new face was slightly smaller, so I had to increase the size (push shift while dragging an anchor). I used her the height of her ears, and the width of her eyes and mouth to line it up perfectly.


Step 6. Next, I applied a layer mask to the new face by clicking the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette. This is the icon that looks like a square with a circle inside. I also get a soft round brush and make sure my brush color is on black (to reveal the original image close to, but not on, Mom’s face).


Step 7. Using the soft edge brush and varying the opacity, I painted on the new face alternating black and white to hide (black) or reveal (white) the original image or the new face.


Step 8. I’m not quite pleased with the outcome – the green of the trees behind the family to Mom’s left is not smooth or seamless. So I flatten my image, duplicate the layer and, using the rubber stamp tool, copy the darker green from Mom’s right to her left.


Step 9. My last step was to do some light editing to bring out the colors, light into the darker areas, and darkness into the brighter areas. I used MCP Fusion Photoshop actions slumber party. Then I used Shade to selectively darken the face of the young lady in the wheelchair, and over all sharpening with High Def Sharpening at 75%.


I’m very pleased with the results, but more importantly, my client loved it and had no idea that her face was a transplant!


Sarah Cook of Cookwire Photography, based in Birmingham, Alabama, specializes in family, children and special-needs photography. Her passion for capturing those with special-needs is heavily influenced by her son, Max, who is severely Autistic. It is her desire to portray their unique spirit and perspective.

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  1. September 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm — Reply

    Excellent work. I may try this one just for the experience. I know a few people whose heads could be removed. Uh, on Photoshop, that is. ;o)

  2. September 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm — Reply

    Way to go, Sarah! And what a very detailed tutorial. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been intrigued with that session since you mentioned you head swapped. Had no idea it was the mom. Phenomenal job!!

  3. Brook
    September 7, 2011 at 9:02 pm — Reply

    I have one question, since you increased the size of the head that you swapped, wouldn’t that cause pixelation in that part of the image since you can’t really make things bigger, just increase the size of the pixels?

  4. September 7, 2011 at 10:44 pm — Reply

    I did have to increase it much. Also, I shoot in RAW to preserve some of those sort of details.

  5. September 8, 2011 at 11:00 am — Reply

    You could always decrease the “good” photo a bit if you are concerned about pixelation from the other. I’ve done a few head swappings myself. Don’t you just love Photoshop?

  6. Cathy
    September 9, 2011 at 9:12 am — Reply

    This was FASCINATING to learn about! I am not a photographer, so I do not understand many of the technical aspects. I definitely relate to having snapped a great photo only to discover someone had their eyes closed! This is a great demonstration to show anyone who wants a beautiful portrait to hire a pro with access to these nifty resources!

    (Wish I lived near Birmingham!!)

  7. Jennifer
    March 1, 2012 at 11:27 am — Reply

    awesome work! I know I can do it- I just need practice!

  8. February 7, 2014 at 5:21 am — Reply

    Heya iā€™m for the first time here. I found this board and I
    find It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

  9. April 5, 2014 at 5:37 pm — Reply

    THANK YOU! I tried watching two other tutorials on the same topic and couldn’t follow. I was able to swap out four heads in a big family group shot (28 people) with your help. I really appreciate it! šŸ™‚

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Photoshop Tutorial: 9 Quick Steps for Head Swapping / Face Transplant