Head Swap

Wildlife photography is a challenge
Click Images To Enlarge This Article Features Photo Zoom

Wildlife photography is a challenge. One of the aspects that make it such is getting a good head angle of an animal. If the subject is looking away, it implies a lost connection with the photographer, which results in an image that lacks a strong relationship with the viewer. The point of no return is anything past perpendicular to the camera. Ideally, you want the head to be about halfway in between perpendicular and looking directly at you. I deleted many images due to poor head angles until I thought of a solution using Photoshop.

When I do an initial edit, I’m not as fast with the delete button as I used to be if the rejection is due to a poor head angle. If I see a keeper but the head is turned away, I compare it to other images taken in the span of the same session to see if there’s a file with a good head angle. If so, I assign both of them a red label, which tells me to combine them in Photoshop.

Step 1: Choose the two files. Two key factors to consider are the angle of the sun that may have caused a shadow, and making sure the backgrounds are similar so they match. If one has a shadow and the other doesn’t, it’s not a candidate. If the backgrounds are significantly different, it’s not a candidate.

Step 2: Make a selection from the file with the good head using the lasso tool. Be sure to include a bunch of extra pixels around it, as they will be needed to blend the good one onto the main file. This will get done using a layer mask. With the selection active, make a copy by going to Edit > Copy.
Step 3: Make the primary file active and select Edit > Paste. A new layer will appear, as will the copied head. Click on the Move tool and drag it over the existing head.

Step 4: Add a layer mask to the background copy by clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon (the square with a circle in the middle icon) at the bottom of the layers palette. You could also go to the Layer pull-down menu and choose Layer Mask > Reveal All. No visible change will occur.

Step 5: Go to Tools and click on the Brush. Be sure the foreground color is set to black. Adjust the brush opacity to 40% with a soft edge. Paint away the area around the head until the two files seamlessly come together. Differences in exposure and color can be tweaked in Photoshop. Zoom in to 100% to make sure the painting leaves a seamless modification.

Step 6: If the new head doesn’t quite match up, select it using the Free Transform command: Edit > Free Transform. With this enabled, you can rotate, scale, skew or distort the head to make it fit better.

On the “After” image that accompanies this article, I also cleaned up the perch and removed the distracting branches along the bottom with the clone stamp tool.

My goal is to always capture the image as best as I can in the field. But if the animal proves obstinate and doesn’t turn its head, I have the potential to blend two files to give me that shot I wanted.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com

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