Matching Portrait Head Sizes

When lay­ing out por­traits or head­shots close togeth­er, such as in a news­pa­per or mag­a­zine arti­cle or pub­li­ca­tions like mem­ber­ship direc­to­ries and year­books, the gold­en rule is that all pho­to sub­jects’ heads should be the same size. In most cas­es regard­less of back­ground and pose, Fred’s head should be the same size as Themla’s, Daphne’s, Shaggy’s, and Scoobie’s.

If you have to paste-up only a hand­ful of por­traits, InDesign’s trans­paren­cy fea­tures come in handy. Choose one pho­to as the head-size stan­dard and lock its posi­tion with CMD+L/CTRL+L (bet­ter is to put it on its own locked lay­er). Then, one at a time, align the frame of each sub­se­quent pho­to atop the first. Dial back the opac­i­ty on each of these sub­se­quent frames such that the first pho­to shines through. Select the image inside the frame by click­ing on it with the Direct Selection Tool (key­board short­cut A), and then, hold­ing SHIFT to con­strain pro­por­tions, scale the semi-transparent image until the subject’s head close­ly approx­i­mates the head in the pho­to beneath.

Another method is the old col­ored block trick. Instead of mov­ing pho­tos, move a semi-transparent proxy object over each of the pho­tos, then scale them to match. Again, choose the head-size stan­dard. Over it, draw a rec­tan­gle or oval with the Rectangle or Ellipse Tools, and fill the result­ing shape with a con­trast­ing col­or (I typ­i­cal­ly use 100% magen­ta). This is the proxy rep­re­sent­ing the ide­al head height. Set the proxy’s opac­i­ty such that you can see through it while still iden­ti­fy­ing the proxy itself. One at a time, move the proxy over the oth­er por­traits, and then scale them with the Direct Selection Tool. The last method I’m going to men­tion offers a lit­tle more precision–the Measure Tool.

The Measure Tool is hid­den behind the Eyedropper Tool. To use it, click on the start­ing point (say, the top of a head) and drag to the end point (the chin). The distance–and angle–between the two points will appear on the Info palette (Window > Info).

Now that you have the size of one head, repeat the mea­sure­ment as a ran­dom spot check on oth­er pho­tographs. Re-scale any that don’t match.

Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™