How to Swap Faces in Photoshop

Did you ever have a photograph and wanted to insert a different face in place of whatever face there was in the original? You know this can be done in Photoshop but what are the steps on how to do this? There are a variety of reasons you may want to change a face within an image. Perhaps you took a series of family pictures and someone has their eyes closed or the kids were making funny faces. You have nice images of each face but they're in different pictures and you'd have a nice picture if you could merge them together. Maybe you're trying to create digital art or the next meme that will go viral on the internet. Or you're looking at creating some kind of spoof such as replacing the Mona Lisa face with something comical.

Funny American Gothic Painting Spoof

The first thing to do is to identify which image you have that will be your base. This will be the picture where you will insert portions of other pictures and eventually merge them together. You will be creating a series of layers and by positioning them together in your final image. Make a copy of your base image so you have two layers of the same thing. Hide one of the layers. The hidden layer will then be the original that you can revert back to if you have a need to start over or backtrack to a specific point in the process.

Next you will want to identify the image with the face you will want to copy from. It's important to select a face that is close to the same position of the original. If the original picture has the head tilted up and the new face has the head tilted down, you will not get a natural or realistic look when you're done.

Use the selection tool in Photoshop to copy the face you will want to use in the final picture. Go ahead and use the Rectangle Selection Tool and select an area around the face so that you will also be selecting the background. You don't need to be exact at this point. Copy and paste the new face into your base.

One thing to mention is the new face should be the same size or bigger than the face you're replacing. If you have to enlarge the new face to make it fit, you're probably going to get distortion. If this is the case, you may want to take your original and resize it to a smaller picture.

If you used the Rectangle Selection Tool, the face you pasted into the base picture will now have a square with the new face. This will be a separate layer in the picture. Make sure the new face is selected to be the active layer and then change the opacity where you can see through the face and able to see the layer underneath it. Move the face onto the original face and then adjust the scale. Since you lowered the opacity of the new face, you will be able to see where to position the face on the base and scale it to the appropriate size. You also may need to rotate the new face and again, with the opacity lowered, you will be able to adjust as needed for the best match possible.

When the new face is in position, set the opacity back to 100%. You should now have the face where you want it to be but it will be a square on top of the base layer. Select the Eraser Tool and use the Soft Round brush. You can use your mouse but you will get better results if you have a pen and graphics tablet. The Soft Round brush with the Eraser Tool will give you a natural looking edge as you slowly erase the sides of your square to where the new face begins to look like it belongs.

It may take a little practice erasing the edges of the square to make it look like the top layer belongs on the bottom layer. Be patient and work through it. This is very easy to do once you're used to doing this but the first few times can be a bit frustrating.

If you've gotten this far, you're going to notice you have another problem right off. Even if you're using the same face from the same person because you wanted to fix their eyes being closed, it's more than likely the color and flesh tones of the new face will not match the bottom layer. Each image can vary because of lighting and how the camera interpreted the scene. To get the two layers to match, you will need to experiment with several different tools and settings. Adjusting the brightness and contrast may work. Another tool to use is Hue/Saturation. Hue/Saturation also contains a control for Lightness that may come in handy. You may also want to try the Levels option in Photoshop. A combination of these tools may be required to get the two layers to match for color and brightness. Again, you need to be patient and work through the process as there is no one, single way or method to accomplish this task.

At this point you may be done but sometimes there are other issues to deal with. The person in the base layer may have in a certain hair style or the hair may be a raggedy mop. There may be bushy sideburns. The person may be wearing a hat.

If this is the case and you're just not getting a natural look where your top layer is meeting the hair on the bottom layer in a natural way, there is a little trick you can try. Select the bottom layer and again use your Rectangle Selection Tool to select the face and the area around the face. Copy the selected area and paste it and if it's not already there, adjust it to be the top layer. You will now have a square with the old face you're trying to replace. Assuming the area you copied will be bigger than the new face, you will not see the edges of the square because the edges should match the bottom layer. Take the eraser tool and start removing the old face on the top layer and work your way to the hair. Having the hair on the top layer sometimes will produce a more realistic effect.

If you're still having issues making the face edge match the hair, you can use the Clone Tool on the top layer and work the hair edges out a little bit. Changing the opacity of the Clone Tool may help too in achieving a look that looks real and not Photoshopped.

If the face in the base image is wearing a hat or some of the clothing may be covering the face such as a high shirt collar, there is one more trick you can do to add more realism to the merging of the different layers.

Make the new face layer the active layer and select the Burn Tool. When I do this I will usually set the Exposure down to anywhere from 3% to 8%, and maybe sometimes a little higher. I will first set the Range to Highlights and use the Soft Round brush. I find you will get better results by slowly burning the edges of the face so once again, be patient. I will slowly darken the edge of the face where the hat or collar or whatever is located in order to create a shadow which will give a realistic depth to your face. I will change the Range to Midtones and darken some more and eventually change the Range to Shadows. This trick takes practice to get it right so don't get frustrated. You may want to save copies of the different layers in case you may want to start over. But once you master this technique, you will be surprised at how realistic the results will be. It also gets very easy to do with practice.

The steps you take are really very simple but practice and patience is the key to getting it just right. For the new face it's best to use one that is the same or larger than the face you're going to replace. Change the opacity of the new face when the layer is copied into the base so you can easily resize and move as needed in order to match the position of the old face. Use the Eraser Tool to remove the edges of the new face. Utilize the various tools available in Photoshop to match the flesh colors and tones. Create new layers to work in hair along the edges of the new face as needed. Lastly, use the Burn Tool to create natural looking shadows and depth if the face has various articles of clothing over it.

Photo credits: Wisconsinart.

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September 01, 2018


Thanks for taking the time to go into the detail on this process.

August 18, 2018


Yes! Great blog, as always, Master! Thank you for sharing!

August 11, 2018


Thanks.learn from you.

August 07, 2018


Great blog, as always. Your image is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

August 07, 2018


Congrats, the photo is as impressive as Grant Wood's painting! But how did you manage the models to make such a face?Thanks for the great blog!

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