Foolproof Photoshop Tutorial (Friendly FAQ)

Foolproof Photoshop: Replacing heads guide

Hello, my name is Calen Nakash, and today we’re going to learn how to put a head on someone else’s body, using Photoshop.

The first thing we need is two images. Let’s bring our first image into Photoshop. We can do this by either simply opening the file, or making a new document and importing the file by going to File > Place Embedded or File > Place Linked. Place embedded will import the actual image into the document, while place linked will remember the linked image’s file location for future reference. This can cause issues if the image’s location is moved.

We will be using this first image as the body for our Frankenstein’s monster, which means it will remain relatively unchanged.

Next, we need an image to use for the head. We’re going to click file > place embedded for this, and locate the file.

You’ll see we now have two layers under the “layer” panel, if we chose to simply open the first file. One will say “background layer,” and these layers cannot be edited. Let’s double click that layer and hit “okay” to fix that.

Layers work like sheets of paper would, as whatever piece is on top takes priority over what you see. Because of this, we won’t be able to see both layers at a time unless we change the size of the Canvas (Image > Canvas size) to increase the space we are working with, and then place both images side by side. However, this will also change the final size of the exported image, so to make it simple, we will be working with each image separately.

Next, we will be changing the name of each layer. Layer 1 will be titled “body,” and will be the final size of the document. We will be using this image to place the head on. Double click the layer name to change it.

Layer 2 will be titled “head,” and we will be removing the head to place it on the body. Again, to make it simple, for now we will “hide” layer 1, or body, to focus on the head. To do so, click on the eye next to the body layer. We can now only see the “face” layer. If the face layer was imported in to the top layer, this would already be the case.

It’s finally time to focus on the head. To prevent damage to the image until we know what we want, we will be employing a “layer mask.” This mask hides bits of the image we don’t want, but it is possible to get those bits back at any time. Let’s click Layer > Layer mask > Reveal all. Once this is done, there will be two boxes shown in the layer. The box on the right is the mask- click on that to begin working. Be careful- it’s possible to accidentally switch over to the left box, which is where our actual image is located. Anything removed from that layer is gone for good, assuming you are past the “undo” threshold, or how many times Photoshop will remember your actions. To undo something, go to Edit > Undo in the menu.

Because we are now on the layer mask, we will be working with two brushes- black and white. The brush icon is the eighth icon down on the left. It should be automatically set up to have a white and black foreground/background color- these colors decide what color the brush is, or any other tools you use. The foreground/background colors are obvious—they’re at the bottom of the document in two boxes. Double click on one to change the color, and either press “x” or hit the arrow above them to change the background/foreground color. Photoshop keeps track of two colors.

Assuming we’re on the layer mask (again, this is the right box on our “head” layer) using the black or white brush will either erase from the image or bring the image back. Remember that the black and white brushes simply mean, in this case, using the black or white foreground color.  

We will obviously be starting on the black brush, and erasing everything around the head. To zoom in, click the magnifying glass tool. Right click to choose to zoom in or out. This is the simplest tool, but also the most time consuming. Make broad strokes around the image until only the head is left. You may need to change the brush size or the brush “hardness” by going to Window > Brush settings, and changing the “hardness” meter. The harder the brush is, the crisper the brush stroke will be.

If you prefer a more fine-tuned approach to getting the area around the head erased, there are ways to select it directly.  

The fourth icon down on the left contains the magic wand tool and the quick selection tool. The magic wand tool, when you click on an area, will find all the colors of that area and bring it into your selection. This can make your job incredibly easy if your head is against a plain background, meaning the colors have a stark contrast. If you need to add more to the selection, hold shift and click in a new area. Depending on how busy your image is, the magic wand or quick selection tool (which is basically painting an area with the brush) can be extremely helpful or very frustrating, but unless you want to rely on the layer mask and your own paint skills, it is necessary. If you mess up, press select- deselect to start over.

These selections, which look like moving dotted lines, are confining areas that prevent you from working anywhere else. If you try using the pen or brush tool on the board when a selection is active, the only areas affected will be inside that selection. If you use the eraser tool, which is in the center of the icon list, on any area around the selection, nothing will happen. Because of this, it’s common to select one area when you want to be careful not to disturb anything around it.

The final way to select the head is to use the third icon down- a selection of three “lasso” tools. These tools allow you to draw where you’d like the selection to be. The lasso tool allows a freeform selection. Use this to simply draw a shape you’d like to work in. If we’re able to draw around the head perfectly, we will be all prepared for the next step. If this tool proves a bit too difficult, the polygonal lasso allows you to click to create an anchor—draw and click as many times as you need to until you reach your starting point again. This tool can take some getting used to. The last tool from this icon is the magnetic lasso, but this, in my opinion, can be a bit unruly and hard to control.

Eventually, these tools should allow you to select the head. If you got lucky with the magic wand or quick selection tool, you will have a perfect head all lined up for your body. If not, the lasso tool allows you to directly select what you want.

Once you’ve got your head selected, go to Select > Inverse. Now only the background will be selected, and it will be impossible to work on the head. Because we are on a layer mask, removing the background from the image will not actually erase the background. Hit “delete” on your keyboard and as long as you are on the layer mask section, everything BUT the head will be removed. If this does not work, go to Windows > Brushes and change the brush size under Brush Settings. With a big enough brush, deleting the background with the black brush tool. We can get this back at any time by using the white brush tool (changing the foreground color to white by clicking the arrow, or the x key on the keyboard.) If you messed up, don’t worry!

If you did everything right, you should have a floating head.

Finally, we need our two layers- head and body- to be aligned the right way. The head layer, and our head, should be over body. If it is not, click and hold on the layer and drag it to the right place. Click the eye icon over body to show it again.

If all goes well, we will have a floating head able to be moved on top of someone else’s head. If it’s too small, go to edit > transform image, hold shift to keep it the right size, and drag it until it fits the body perfectly. Hit enter and “apply transformation” when you are done. To move the head on top of the body, we will be using the move tool. The move tool is the very top icon. Go ahead and make that head float around a bit, and then place it where it needs to go.

The final fine-tuning is making the contrast and brightness line up. Making sure you are on your head layer, go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and fool around until it looks good.

Eureka! You’ve created a monster!

Calen Nakash