Use symmetry to create surreal portraits

If you want to take portraits that make people smile and are real conversation starters, then this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. There are very few portrait techniques that make people laugh out loud, but this is one. Rather than being something people want to avoid, everyone will want to try it.

How to shoot it
All you have to do is take head-and-shoulders portraits of friends and family against a plain background. Then flip half the face in Elements or Photoshop to create perfectly, or indeed imperfectly, symmetrical faces that will amaze everyone. When one person sees the results of someone else’s portrait, they’ll want to have a go themselves – it’s really addictive!


1. Find the centre of the face
Zoom into the face so you can clearly see the tip of the nose and the mouth. Hold down Ctrl+Shift+R to show Rulers. Now left-click your mouse on the left ruler and drag the guide to the centre of the philtrum, just below the nose. If you need to move the guide hold down Ctrl, left-click the mouse and drag the guide to reposition.

2. Make a Rectangular Marquee selection  
Press M to activate the Marquee Tool, and make sure it’s set to Rectangular Marquee at the bottom of the Elements window. Hover the pointer over one of the top corners of the image, then left-click the mouse and drag the selection out so it’s over the blue guide line. Now hold down Ctrl+J to copy the contents of the selection to a new Layer.

3. Flip the Layer and reposition
The Layer created in the last step will be active. Go to Image>Rotate>Flip Layer Horizontal. This will flip the Layer so it can be positioned over the other side of the face. Now press V to activate the Move Tool, left-click on the Layer in the main image window and drag into position. Now repeat Steps 1 to 3 to copy the other side of the face.

4. Use the Healing Brush
Once you’ve chosen which side of the face creates the funniest image, you can, if you wish, remove areas of too much symmetry. This step is optional. Hold down Ctrl+Shift+N to create an empty New Layer. Then use the Healing Brush to remove spots. Hold down Alt to create a sample point, then left-click over the offending areas.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.