A Good Photographer Can Manage a Difficult Head Swap

We have all heard the term "head swap." It is a photographers worse nightmare. The need for head swaps usually comes into play after photographing any session with children. This is especially true when photographing a large group with kids. One child is looking at his sister, one is looking at mom, one is crying next to grandma and the combinations of heads going in all different directions instead of at the camera is inevitable. You as the photographer are smiling and doing all kinds of antics to get everyone to look this way, the whole time thinking, "I am going to have to do a ton of head swaps to get one good image." We've all been there, it comes with the territory of digital photography. Dad yells from the group, "You can Photoshop this right?"

In this post I am going to show you a quick view on how I tackled a sort of difficult head swap. It is very important to remember to pull off a head swap the two images need to be similar in pose and lighting. The reasons this image was a bit more difficult than usual were - 1. It was a close up of one person, not a far away group shot were the subject is smaller and the details are not as noticeable. 2. He had a very busy shirt on, lots of stripes that did not mesh together easily. 3. The two images I combined were slightly off. Either I changed my zoom ratio or the baby moved, which of course is possible.

Here are the two images I needed to combine:

The image on the right has the cutest smile and he is looking right at the camera because mom is there right besides me getting his attention. That is her arm in the photo, cute smile but not a good look with the mysterious hand. So I needed to use the other image I took of his hands nicely folded and no mom hand in the image. Easy peasy, right?

I first thought I would just swap heads, which is what I would typically do. But this was proving to be a bit more difficult than usual. As you can see in the image on the left his head is down, hiding his neck slightly. On the right his chin is up and we can see his neck a bit more. Ok no problem, I'll swap just the hands and chair portion of the image. Problem number two, the chair isn't angled the same and that really cute shirt is proving to be difficult to mesh together with all of those stripes!

Here are two screen shots of trying to line things up. I pulled the images into Photoshop and used part of one as a separate layer and turn down the opacity so I can line the two images up. Even with transformations and rotating, things were not lining up as well I as wanted. You can see here the images overlapping and the transform block around one. I tried the bottom of the photo first, then tried the top of the photo, as seen in this screen shot.

In the end I aimed to line up the right side of the collar it was about the only thing that was lining up. I decided that the bottom of the photographs would be easier to merge together and headed in that direction. By using the top portion of the photo or the head, there would be too much rebuilding to the photograph. There was already enough cloning and healing that needed to be done.

After a lot of command z's, (or Control Z in the PC world) I was able to combine the two images to remove mom's hand and the white towel. I worked a lot on the stripes and think it came out pretty good. There were enough folds and shadows in the fabric to help hide where the two photos came together. Obviously this makes for a much more pleasing photograph. If I hadn't told you I did a "hand swap" would you have known?

If you are interested in learning more about this kind of editing in Photoshop and Lightroom, please check out our upcoming learning classes.

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