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Video: How to Swap Faces and Expressions in a Few Simple Steps

How many times has this happened to you? You thought that you took the perfect portrait, complete with beautiful lighting and a flattering pose, only to discover later that your subject’s eyes were closed or their expression was off. It’s an especially common occurrence when photographing groups. What would’ve been a great pic suddenly winds up in the undeliverable pile. In this article/video, we’re going to capture and edit a sequence of “water hat” images (inspired by Tim Tadder‘s work) to show you how to swap faces, features, heads, or even entire people (like ex-boyfriends/girlfriends) if necessary,  and save those otherwise fantastic photos.

The Premise

Creating portraits of water hats works perfectly for our purpose of swapping out facial features. In almost every case, the subject’s eyes close when the water hits, so we have to take a picture of the smile right before the action unfolds and create a composite using Lightroom and Photoshop. We’re going to create a “Twice Baked Edit” for the final image.

You can download the images HERE so that you can follow along with the editing process.

Step 1: Process Both Images in Lightroom

How to swap a face in photoshop and lightroom Preset adjustment
Before and after adding Visual Flow’s one-click Soft Light preset

After capturing the images, the first thing to do is process and color grade both of the images you’ll be using to create a composite. I usually start with the image that is closer to the final and then follow up with the second image. For this edit, I applied a Soft Light preset from the Visual Flow Modern Pack, but you can start with any preset or make any adjustments you want to make to get the photo to where you need it to be. In addition to using the Soft Light preset, I boosted the exposure just a bit, warmed up the color temperature, and brought down the contrast. When you get a look that you like for the first edit, apply the same settings to the second image in the series. Then, make any necessary adjustments to match the look between both photos.

Step 2: Edit Both Images in Photoshop

After you’ve applied the first basic edits in Lightroom, it’s time to export to Photoshop. To get there, do the following:

  • Select both images
  • Right click anywhere within Lightroom
  • Select “Edit In” > “Open as Layers in Photoshop”

Photoshop will then do the heavy lifting and stack the images. This is where you’ll notice how much it helps to use a tripod when shooting a sequence of images for easier compositing. If your images are not aligned (or at least very close to being aligned), do the following:

  • Select both layers
  • Hold “Shift” and click on “Edit” from the toolbar to open the Edit menu
  • Select “Auto Align Layers” from the Edit menu
  • Select “Auto” when the “Auto Align Layers” box opens and then click “OK”

If the alignment causes any offset in the crop, address that issue before moving on.

Next, make sure the image that is “mostly right” on top. Now, you’re ready for step three.

[Related Reading: Twice Baked Photo Editing Technique with Lightroom & Luminar 4]

Step 3: Add a Layer Mask to the Top Layer

If you have access to a tablet for editing your photos, it will come in handy here; however, you can work through the edit without a tablet. If you’re unsure about how a clipping mask (aka layer mask) works, remember the following: “White reveals & black conceals.” Here are a couple methods for adding a layer mask.

How to swap a face in photoshop and lightroom Add a Layer Mask
1) Add a layer mask to the top layer; 2) Click on the white square

Method 1

Select the clipping mask to the right of the top layer. It should be white when you begin, meaning all of the original layer is still intact (see point “2” in the image above). Here are some shortcuts for using a brush to edit the layer mask:

  • Press “B” to select the brush tool
  • Press “D” to set your colors to the default setting (black and white)
  • Press “X” to switch back and forth between black and white

With black selected, I can “paint” over my subject’s eyes to reveal the layer beneath, in which the eyes are open. Because the layers are aligned and there was almost no movement from the subject, it’s very quick and easy to get the eyes open and placed where they need to be.

Method 2

After running through the step above, I realized this composite might be easier to edit if I placed the closer to finished layer on the bottom. This way, I can simply paint in the open eyes. To do this, do the following:

  • Hold down “Alt/Opt” and click on the layer mask icon to add a layer mask to the top layer
    • Now, the layer mask is black, which means the top layer (the one with the layer mask) is basically invisible
  • With the layer mask selected, use a white brush and paint over the areas in which you want to paint back in the top layer
  • After revealing the eyes, adjust the opacity (lower it until you can see both layers)
  • Select the main thumbnail for the layer
  • Select the Move tool (“V”) and align the eyes
  • Return the opacity to 100%

Step 4: Add a Curves Layer

How to swap a face in photoshop and lightroom curves layer
1) Add a curves layer to the top layer; 2) Select “Create Clipping Mask” from the pop-up menu

If you notice a slight bit of color difference between the two layers, you can add a curves layer to adjust it. Here’s how to do it:

  • Press the curves layer icon in the lower righthand corner and add a curves layer (see image above)
  • Select “Create Clipping Mask” from the pop-up menu

Adding the clipping mask to the curves layer will limit the curves layer adjustments to the layer below it. In other words, place the curves layer over the layer you want to adjust and then add a clipping mask. Once the curve is added and selected, you can adjust the curve to affect the brightness and other details to help match the layers.

From here, you can fine tune your edit before saving the edit and bringing the image back into Lightroom.

Step 5: Finalize the Edit in Lightroom

How to swap a face in photoshop and lightroom dark brush to lower blacks in Lightroom
Use the brush tool to selectively edit the image

Once you’ve finished editing the image in Photoshop, bring it back into Lightroom for one final round of editing. For this edit, I selected the brush tool in Lightroom and lowered the “Blacks” down to -100 (see image above). With the brush tool selected, I painted over the areas I wanted to darken to add a bit more contrast to the final image.

Depending on the photo you’re editing, you may want to make additional edits, or perhaps edit for both black & white and color, and so on.

Final Image: Before and After

Before and after water hat portrait

[Related Reading: How to Create Presets in Lightroom Mobile | Quick Reference]


We hope you enjoyed this article/video on how to swap faces and expressions in just a few simple edits. If you’d like to dive deeper into Lightroom education, check out our Mastering Lightroom workshop at slrloungeworkshops.com. From learning the interface and catalog structure to mastering Lightroom’s raw processing, this workshop will help you level up your Lightroom abilities.

Be sure to catch our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!