How to perform a head swap in Photoshop Elements

How to perform a head swap in Photoshop Elements by Melissa Gibson

Oftentimes, during a session, someone is either not looking at the camera or is making a goofy face.  With my little ones?  It’s more than likely a goofy face.  However, no worries!  If you have a good handle on how to swap heads in Photoshop Elements (aka PSE) you’ll have a little less stress when you’re editing a session.  This is a really handy editing tip that you’ll love to use.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just used for head swaps.  You can also use the steps if you need to swap arms, legs, dogs, cats, even eyes.  In this example, I’m going to swap the head of my little girl’s best buddy.

Step 1:  Open the images you are working with (in this case, I’m using two) and determine which head is being swapped.  Select the area you want to use in THE NEW IMAGE.  You do this by selecting the lasso tool.  I over select the area so that it’s easy to blend in.

Step 2:  Once you’ve selected the area, copy it by going to Edit > Copy

head swap in PSE

create a head swap in photoshop

Step 3:  Bring up your second image.  THIS WILL BE YOUR FINAL IMAGE.  Paste the area that you just copied into this image by going to Edit > Paste.  Use the Move tool to drag the area into the correct spot in the new image.  You can adjust the opacity of this layer if you want to see the OLD head that is hiding underneath.  This is sometimes helpful to do in order to match it up easier.

head swap tutorial

how to do a head swap tutorial

Step 4:  Now you’ll need to add a mask to this layer so that you can brush off the extra area and blend in this new head.  If you are in PSE9, simply go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to add the mask.  If you are Elements 8 or lower, you will need to download an action that will allow you to add a mask.  You can get a free action from The Coffeeshop Blog.  Just search “layer mask action”.  This action will change your life!

head swap in elements tips

Step 5:  Now comes the fun part.  You’re ready to brush and blend in the new head by selecting a soft black brush (remember, black reveals what’s underneath) and setting the opacity of the brush to 100%.  Zoom in a bit and start brushing the edges.  If you mess up?  No problem, just select a white brush (remember, white conceals…or covers up) and brush over your mistake.  You can switch back and forth between black and white brushes until you have it just right.

head swap advice

head swap instructions in photoshop

Once you have the image looking great, just flatten and save.  I like to save a copy that is NOT flattened as well.

head swap information

And there you have it!  How fun is that?  I really love doing head swaps…or foot swaps….or doggie swaps.  I hope this tutorial was helpful and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have!

how to do a head swap in photoshop elements

Melissa GibsonMelissa Gibson, Georgia
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Melissa is a proud MWAC who gears up with a Nikon D700, prime lenses, and edits her “fun, childlike, and whimsical” photography solely in Photoshop Elements. Melissa’s goal both now and when she first began her photography journey in 2005 is to, in her own words, “remember my girls’ lives for them. They are so young yet growing so quickly. I know they won’t remember it all so I feel it’s my job to document it for them.”

Read all photography tutorials from Melissa Gibson.

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  • threeleesinapod says:

    AWESOME tutorial! I mostly use LR, but do have PSE8 and this is going to come in handy. Thank you!

  • Erin says:

    This is awesome, Melissa! Thank you for sharing!

  • Andrea Gagen says:

    Thanks for the tips. I end up doing quite a few head swaps in sports team shots since they're usually spur of the moment ones.

  • Pam says:

    I have a photo or two that could try this out on! Thank you Melissa!

  • cgoemans says:

    Thanks for this! I shared on fb :)

  • Mrchambers says:

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together and sharing with us. I shared on FB & Pinned it.

  • Joyce says:

    Thank you for sharing Melissa!

  • Great tutorial, Melissa!!

  • Johnna Brown says:

    Thank you! Little different technique then I usually use so I’m excited to try it:)

  • Kristin Dokoza says:

    Thank you Melissa! I'm totally going to give it a try!

  • jodi says:

    thanks for sharing these super helpful steps, melissa!

  • Melinda T says:

    Great tutorial! And I shared by tweeting.

  • Ellen K in MD says:

    Thanks for sharing- I tweeted! :)

  • Dana S says:

    This is great! I shared on Facebook.

  • Maureen Petru says:

    I just tried a head swap using your tutorial. Wow! It is the first time I would say my head swap might possibly pass as completely un-noticible to anyone. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out and share it!

  • Christi H says:

    Wow, just tried this! I will keep this tip handy. Thanks !

  • Thanks for posting this tutorial and sharing it on Rock the Shot’s post. I think I have a clearer idea of how to do this for the family portrait I’ve been working on (my family). Of course, it’s a classic tale of the photographer’s children have no photos…my daughter loves having her picture taken, but my boys… you’d think I was going to poke them with hot needles!

  • jane says:

    please put more tutorials.thanks

  • @melissagibson thank you so much – I have been wanting to learn this FOREVER and a client’s family portrait of 17 people finally forced me to sit down and learn it. Thanks tons!

  • I don’t know what in the world i did wrong, but this is not working. When I use a brush to to blend all I get it black lines & then I use white & I get ghostly looking shadows. What am I doing wrong?

    • Melissa says:

      Oops! Make sure you are on the white layer mask thumbnail that’s next to the layer mask where you’ve added the new head/face. It will be outlined in white/blue/black when it’s active. Then, you’ll use a black brush to brush away the extra. Sounds like you are using a black brush on the image itself instead. :)

  • April says:

    I wish this would work for me. I press “paste” and then try to move the cut face and the face is actually just planted in the middle of the picture and when I choose the move tool, it just moves my entire picture with the head just floating in the middle … it won’t let me move it to the area that needs to be swapped out! :( So bummed!

    • Melissa says:

      Hi April! Sorry you’re having troubles. Sounds like the move tool is grabbing the image rather than the new layer itself…where you’ve added the head. In the layers panel on the right side, click on that layer mask that shows the head. That will activate the layer and you’ll see a box around the head on the image. Then, you can move it around. Hope that works! :)

  • Jenni says:

    Thank you so very much!! I’ve been trying to do a head swap using another tutorial that wasn’t in elements then I found this….. and I finally got the job done in a couple minutes!!

  • jodie b says:

    Thank you for sharing this is technique, your tutorial is great!! , it was so much easier to do than I thought it would be!! and done so quick! : ) : ) ; )

  • Becky says:

    I’m stuck at the paint part… it is just black on the photo and I’m not sure what to do next… any help would be great! Thanks!

  • Kimberly says:

    Thank you so much for this valuable info! I have always wanted to learn to do a head swap on my photos! So, I completed the process and saved a flattened and unflattened copy. Now, when I go to my pictures file, the image is saved as .psd instead of .jpg. How do I save it and open it like my jpg images?


  • Courtney says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! This article was SO helpful! I just performed my first head swap in just a few minutes – even ran it by my hubby and he couldn’t tell! It was so easy thanks to your article. Thank you!

  • BettyLou says:

    Just had great fun doing a head swap that is really meant to be obviously a swap. Thanks for the instructions.

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