When and How to Do a Head Swap

Image manipulation is a sensitive subject these days. Photographers have image editors to enhance their pictures but also to transform them according to their artistic vision. From an artistic vision to a malicious attack are just a step and an ethics matter.

A head swap is an image manipulation technique that involves replacing a person’s head or face from a picture with a part of another picture. Software like Adobe Photoshop, Luminar, and others can help you do this transformation in several minutes. But should you do it?

When is appropriate to do a head swap

A head swap can be used as an image retouching method. It’s useful for swapping the faces of the same person from two different pictures. After a photo session you may have the perfect face expression in a picture and the perfect background and composition in another. It happens a lot in children photography because children don’t have patience and change their face expression often. Imagine a school portrait in which your subject makes a face or has the eyes closed. It’s impossible to deliver this portrait and you can’t redo the photo session anymore. In this case, a head swap will fix the problem.

Another way to use a head swap is to make it extremely visible. In other words, you don’t hide the method but you use it for artistic reasons. This category includes caricatures, metaphors, abstract photography, comic styles, and more. Usually it involves using the head of a different person, a larger or smaller head, or even the head of an animal or an object.

How to do a head swap

To do a head swap you need an image editor that works with layers and masks. Most people use Adobe Photoshop but there are easier to use editors that achieve the same result.

Choose two very similar images. The portraits should have approximately the same head size, the same lighting conditions, a neutral background, and preferably clear space around the head.

In Photoshop you’ll have to do a selection of the area you want to use as a replacement. You can select entire head or just the face. Use Lasso tool or any selection tool you consider appropriate.

Then copy and paste the selection as a new layer into the original image. Move and resize the layer until it overlays the original head and has exactly the same dimensions.

Create a mask and use a black brush to hide the area that you don’t want to be seen. Blending in is essential for a realistic result.

cute girl with eyes closed

Photo by João Vítor Heinrichs from Pexels

The recent history registered some pretty disturbing uses of this method. For instance, a head swap was used in 2011 to fake the death of Osama bin Laden. Even if is convenient to use image manipulation try to avoid the need of it. Take as many pictures as possible, ask your subject to cooperate or find a way to catch his/hers attention, and review your pictures before ending the photo session. In the worst case scenario when you’re forced to use a head swap, let your client know about it.

Feature Photo by Alexas Fotos from Pexels

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