Photo Surgery – Head Swapping and Body Moving

(Quick note: the second installment of “Workflow 101” is going to be a guest post on another blog – there will be a slight delay in the series until that is scheduled to publish, so I’ll try to have some other good stuff here on the blog in the meantime!)



Ohhhhh, I am SO not proud of these Before photos.  I am a big fan of getting things right in camera.  Here was the situation – my sister and I wanted to give my mom (and dad!) a picture of the grandkids for Christmas.  Of course the timing to actually take the photo was never right, so we literally took the picture about a week before Christmas. 


The weather was super gloomy outside, which meant not much natural light.  But we couldn’t wait for a nice day because we were under a time crunch!!  I already had my ISO cranked up to 1600, which I prefer not to do – especially when I know the photo will be blown up to a large size!  I wanted to make sure my shutter speed was fast enough to freeze 3 squiggly kids at that close range, so my shutter speed was set at 1/250.


My kids (the 2 older ones) were all rambunctious, and my sister had to wake up the baby so we could take the picture… AND he had’t eaten!  So we were working with all things against us, folks!  Bad lighting, squiggly kids, time crunch… definitely not the ideal situation!


I took 80 photos.  Yes, eighty.  And we didn’t get one usable photo on its own.  Out of the bunch, this was the best one…




The baby is not smiling and the spacing between the older kids is too far for my liking.


Now I am used to doing head swaps in Photoshop in group photos, especially when kids are involved.  But there wasn’t one shot of the baby in this series that was usable for a head swap.


Sniff, sniff.


SOOO… we had taken some photos of the baby by himself, and this is one that we got that I thought might be usable for a head swap…


I’m going to put a quick sidenote in here… the White Balance in these is horrible.  I usually shoot on Auto White Balance (AWB), but unless I’m outside, my 5D does a lousy job of getting it right.  I totally should have used my gray card to set the white balance.  Ahhh, yet another thing to remember for next time.  I digress.


Anyways, using these 2 images, I was able to end up with this as the final product for my mom and dad:


It’s certainly not my proudest moment as a photographer, but they were excited about having a photo of all their babies.  :)  I figured this would make a good tutorial to give you another trick up your sleeve.


How to Do a Head Swap in Photoshop

1.  Make sure the white balance and exposure in both photos is the same before pasting on your ‘new head.’  I use Lightroom for this.  A lot of times I make further tweaks to the overall color in Photoshop, but I at least make sure the exposure and white balance is the same in both images before proceeding.

2.  Open both photos in Photoshop.

3.  Make a selection with your Lasso tool around the head (or area) you want to copy.


4.  Paste it on your image.  Resize it if necessary by holding down the Shift key to constrain proportions and dragging in the corner.  Position the head in the correct spot.  Often times I reduce the opacity so I can line things up (like the eyes) as exactly as possible.  (Note: Ideally you will be able to do a head swap with an image from the same series – it makes it SO much easier because the lighting, exposure, size, and position are already mostly the same)


5.  Now add a layer mask to the ‘pasted head’ layer.  Using a black brush, paint over the areas that you want to erase. Zoom in at 100% to make sure your work is not detectable!



In this particular image, I moved over my little guy (the boy on the right) using the same technique:  Copy/Paste/Mask.  Luckily my background was white, so after I ‘copied’ him, I painted over him in white, and then pasted him in a better spot (because his sleeve was cut off, I had to copy that portion from another photo as well!).



After I got everyone where they should be, I worked on the (horrible) coloring in the photo.  I ran Noiseware, brightened with curves, and made the eyes sparkle.  I added a little space above their heads.  Then I added a bokeh texture.  Not sure I would choose that texture again, but I didn’t have time to play – I had to submit it to the printer within an hour to get it in time for Christmas!!


Again, here is the finished image (if you’re viewing this post on a computer browser, rollover for the before):


We had it framed in a gorgeous Organic Bloom frame, and they loved it!!


Anyways, I hope this tutorial was helpful.  Happy editing!

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13 Responses to Photo Surgery – Head Swapping and Body Moving

  1. Lindsay says:

    Great tutorial! I just found your website today and it is awesome!! Thanks for all the helpful tips.

  2. Angie says:

    You are welcome!! Thanks for coming by!

  3. Amanda Borst says:

    Love this tutorial! You make it look so easy. Thank you!

    On a side note, I just LOVE your site and love the resources you offer. As a newbie photog, I’m always looking for tips and tricks and your page is by far the easiest to navigate and so far the most helpful info! Thank you so much and please…keep the great help coming! :)

  4. Angie says:

    Hi Amanda! Thank you so much for the sweet note, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!! :)

  5. Alexis says:

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this site, Ange! Two questions on this post:
    1. What did you use as the back drop?
    2. How’d you get the bokeh texture background? I actually like it :)

    Miss you!


    • Angie says:

      Hey Alexis!! :)
      Yay, I’m so glad you stopped by! :) The background was just a roll of white seamless paper. The bokeh background was something free I got from somewhere!! I tried to track it down but couldn’t. There are millions available, just google ‘free bokeh backgrounds’ or ‘free bokeh textures.’ I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty you like, but I can always email you the file if you want. Talk to you soon!!

  6. Meg says:

    Love this! I like the background! I would live if you could email me te file? Is it for photoshop?

  7. Tara says:

    Hi!! I just came across your website today and I’m in awe of your tutorials and your work and mostly your willingness to share this information! It’s not often that you find such a wealth of knowledge online that someone doesn’t want to charge you for! I’ve been doing photos professionally for awhile but am learning everyday, and am thankful for posts like these when I am looking for how to do something! Thank you!!!

    • Angie says:

      Hi Tara! Thank you so much for your sweet comments! I’m so glad you found my site. You hit the nail on the head… the reason I wanted to create this site is that it’s so hard to find information that people don’t charge for! I wanted to create a free resource that would hopefully be helpful, because I know how long it took me to find information! Thanks so much for visiting. :)

  8. carie says:

    Are the bokeh backgrounds easy to add? Thanks again for this amazing tutorial;)

  9. This is undeniable. I can’t express you how much creative and helpful tutorial is it !!!!

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