How to Change Gender in Photoshop

By Elizabeth Mott

Adobe Photoshop provides an ideal environment in which to tinker with image composites and appearance-altering experiments. Among those visual what-if scenarios, you can create portraits that switch the male or female identity of their subjects. From believable exercises in gender translation to attempts at humor, these revisualizations can produce thought-provoking outcomes. How you create a gender-changing illusion depends on the results you want.

Gender-Based Facial Differences

Beyond obvious physical differences from the neck down, males and females also exhibit subtler gender-based appearance characteristics. Before you embark on gender-altering exercises in Adobe Photoshop, familiarize yourself with the facial manifestations of these differences. In men, the brow ridge is more prominent, the jawline curves upward more strongly, the chin appears more prominent and the nose larger than in women's faces. Women display lighter skin tones, wider-set eyes, larger foreheads and cheekbones, arched eyebrows and larger, redder lips. An individual may show only some of these traits, but the generalizations explain how we identify gender in photographs and the subjective assessment of gender based on observable attributes.

Face-Swapping Preparation

The simplest way to alter gender in Adobe Photoshop transplants a woman's face onto a man's photograph or vice versa. This technique requires two images that match in angle, pose and zoom ratio. On a duplicate of the layer with the face you want to transplant, use Photoshop's selection tools to isolate it from forehead to chin and cheekbone to cheekbone. Apply your selection as a layer mask to conceal the remainder of the layer nondestructively.

Face-Swapping Completion

With the source image in the foreground and the target image open in Photoshop, use the "Duplicate Layer" command in the fly-out menu at the top of the Layers panel or its equivalent in the Layer menu to send a copy of the masked layer to the target photo. Press "V" to switch to the Move tool and position the face. Use painting tools to refine the mask and blend the layer believably onto its new body. If you need to apply destructive filters and effects to produce a convincing composite, open the "Layer" menu's "Smart Objects" submenu and choose "Convert To Smart Object." Using this conversion, you apply most Photoshop operations as smart filters and effects instead of destructive commands, with the exceptions of operations that change pixels through painting, cloning, or dodging and burning tools.

Altering Facial Features

To experiment with gender-based facial characteristics rather than simply mask off and transplant a face, use Adobe Photoshop's Liquify filter to reshape the brow, cheekbones, chin, lips and nose of a portrait. Open the "Filter" menu and choose "Liquify" to launch the floating interface in which you use a separate set of tools to brush image areas into new positions. Alter the size and pressure of the Liquify brush to increase or reduce its effects along with these tool attributes. The Freeze Mask tool protects those portions of the image to which you apply it. Use Liquify to display a backdrop to keep track of how an individual image layer fits in with the background layer below it. After you recontour the face and apply the Liquify transformation, add adjustment layers -- Levels, Curves, Hue/Saturation or Selective Color -- to darken, lighten or recolor areas that need more or less emphasis through shadow detail or natural hue or to apply or counteract the effects of makeup.

Caricatures and Common Sense

Some image-editing experiments in gender bending produce stylized character studies or attempts at visual humor. Others attempt a serious depiction of an individual's altered appearance. Aesthetic surgeons use this type of imagery to visualize cosmetic procedures and show patients how they'll look after the completion of treatment. Because gender identity constitutes a focal part of human identity, think twice about creating experiments that appear to belittle a person's appearance or lampoon someone without regard for the feelings you may incite.

Version Information

Information in this article applies to Adobe Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Photoshop CS6. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions or products.