How to Swap Heads in Photoshop Elements

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Anyone who has ever picked up a camera and taken family or group pictures has had to deal with closed eyes, turned heads and other things that cause a great image to be so-so, or even find it’s way to the trash can. However, if you use Photoshop Elements or Photoshop, you can save the image by “swapping heads.”

Swapping or replacing heads is when you take two (or more) images and copy over the “bad head” with the image with the “good head.” There are multiple ways you can do this, but here is how I do it, hopefully it will prove useful to you too!

Photoshop Users – As usual, this tutorial will work perfectly for you too!

Step 1: Open the images you will be using – usually both have problems, so use the one that will be the easiest to work with as your “good image.”

Step 2: Take your Lasso tool and circle the “good head” and press ‘control’ and ‘j’ (‘command’ and ‘j’ on a Mac). This copies just the head onto a layer.

Step 3: In your Main Menu bar, go to the box next to Help (in PSE 7 and older, I believe you have to go to Window, Views (or Images) and then Tile), and click on it. Choose the icon with all vertical lines, which is Tile All Vertically.

Step 4: Click on the image/file name with the “good head layer” and DRAG that layer onto the other image. Just drag the layer, not the background.

Step 5: Once the good head is on the better image, activate your Move tool (v) and move it over the bad head area. You may have to turn it a bit (click on corners of section first). Click the check mark to commit the selection to that spot.

Step 6: If that person has moved/turned any, you will have an easier time if you add a mask, invert it and then only let the eyes (sometimes nose and mouth) show through. To do this, add a mask to your head layer, then press ‘control’ and ‘i’ (cmmd + i on Mac). Take a white brush, at 100% brush opacity, Normal blend mode) and brush over the eyes/nose/mouth area as needed.

Step 7: Flatten your image and go on with any other edits you need.

Below is a quick video showing this process. If you are reading in a blog reader or via email updates, you may have to come to the blog to view the video.

About Amanda

I am passionate about helping others learn how to use their DSLR cameras and editing programs. More information about me can be found at my About page, or by visiting my personal blog.


  1. Stephanie says:

    At the end after you added the layer mask and inverted it…what did you do? You say “and then I do this.” but you didn’t explain what you did? I am not sure how you went from getting the eyes closed to look open? Can you explain this part better? Did you paint over the eyes then to make them look open?

    • Stephanie, I am sorry about the video. My Camtasia is acting up and not recording my mouse movements well.

      After I inverted the mask, I used a white brush and brushed over the eyes and nose. This allows the “good” face to show through the mask.

      I listed the steps in the post, so if you try the tutorial on a picture of your own, follow the steps written in addition to the video.

  2. I’ve done head swaps before but never with a layer mask. That was awesome, thanks for the video Amanda!

  3. Amanda , this came at a perfect time. I was just reviewing recent family photos from Thanksgiving and wanted to do this but wasn’t sure how. I’m going to try it tonight. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Fabulous! Can’t wait to try it. Thanks!!

  5. Great tutorial! Thank you – I’m definitely going to try this soon.

  6. Thank you! I’ve always wondered how to do this but haven’t taken the time to look anything up. Can’t wait to try this. 🙂

  7. You are the best! I took some Christmas photos for my neighbor today. I shot a 1 year old and a 5 year old. I was able to switch his head and you can’t even tell! This came at the perfect time! Thank you!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for clearing that up..I will give it a try 🙂 You do a great job….Thanks!

  9. Amanda, On the “good face” that you moved over. How did you do that slight rotation of just the face? I need to rotate slightly as well and can’t figure out what you did you. Thanks!

  10. Thanks so much. I’ve been wanted to learn this for ages. Your awesome. Thanks again.

  11. Having spent several hours swapping heads from a recent shoot of a very large family with very squiggly kids, this technique looks way easier than what I was doing. Thanks for the tutorial!

  12. Thanks for the tutorial. Follow everything up to step 6. Don’t understand the mask, invert and then using the white brush to expose.

    • Richard, by adding the mask, then inverting, you’re hiding the whole new head pixel layer and with a brush you are allowing it to show through only where you brush. That way I don’t have to match it up completely, just bring out the eyes and nose area.

      Does that make sense?

  13. As long as I am at it – can I pass another question by you? I am a long-time fan of PSE. Initially drawn to its cataloging/archiving capabilities. I organize all my pics by Tags – when I want all pics by a fam member, just double click, etc. Then last year I found LR and love it for its post production expertise. I’m not crazy about its catalog or collection approach. I know that you can tag in LR as well, but how do I work with both LR and PSE. I would like to just import PICs to LR and have the same organizational TAG based filing system and just use PSE for its editing. As it is – I import RAW to LR first do my post production, then I export as JPEG and import to PSE – crazy. Any strategies? Thanks

  14. Well, I first one to say that if you like PSE’s catalog capability, Lightroom’s library should please you even more. The concepts are extremely similar, with LR’s being more smooth and user friendly. I encourage you to give it a try again.

    Here is my workflow, in case this helps:
    Import all picture to Lightroom, where I create tags and sort the images in collections. I do some “global editing” then export to PSE, save the TIFF file, which then pops back up into LR, where I then export for web or print.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Wow, that’s great. I’ve used the clone tool and it was much more time consuming. I’m definitely going to give it a try!

  16. I’m new to PSE and am stuck on when you invert the layer. How do you do that exactly? When I do it, it makes the layer look like an x-ray photo. Stuck…
    Thank you!!


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