Playing Around with Average Faces Using Martin Schoeller’s Celebrity Portraits

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Yesterday, PetaPixel shared photographer Richard Prince’s composite portrat created by blending together 57 faces of girlfriends seen on Seinfeld. I also enjoy playing with the idea of image averaging, and can’t get enough of it. Late last year, I started experimenting with the idea of averaging faces by blending portraits.

I needed a set of faces that were all semi-similar enough to create good averages with. Well, if you haven’t seen the work of photographer Martin Schoeller, you are missing out! He has a series of close-ups that are shot with very similar lighting styles and compositions of famous (and not-so-famous) people. It’s simply mesmerizing to see. I grabbed the shots above to try face averaging out with.

In GIMP, to prepare the images, all I did was aligned the images based on the subjects eyes (tried to get them on the same level, and the same distance from the centers).

At that point the fun begins! All I had to do was pick and choose whose faces I thought would be fun to see averaged together. To begin with, here is the image matrix from above, but with averages calculated for each row and column appended to it:

Blends averaged on rows and columns.

Blends averaged on rows and columns.

What I learned from this matrix is that George Clooney and Justin Timberlake make attractive composites (and that Mickey Rourke makes them very scary).

So first I went ahead and just blended all of these faces together to see a total composite average image:

Composite of all of these portraits blended.

Composite of all of these portraits blended.

While that is interesting, the things that made me laugh out loud were the composites of faces I knew pretty well being put together in funny ways. For instance, what about a simple two image blend with Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)?

Harry Granger or Hermione Potter?

Harry Granger or Hermione Potter?

Another funny two person blend was George Clooney and Christopher Walken…

George Walken or Christoper Clooney?

George Walken or Christoper Clooney?

Well, what about mixing it up even more? How about just the ladies?

Jolie, Watson, and Blanchett...

Jolie, Watson, and Blanchett…

Or what about just the younger actors in the list?

Ledger, Radcliffe, Timberlake, and Watson

Ledger, Radcliffe, Timberlake, and Watson

Or how about the more “distinguished” older gentlemen?

Clooney, Eastwood, Murray, Nicholson, Walken and Rourke.

Clooney, Eastwood, Murray, Nicholson, Walken and Rourke.

And finally my personal favorite so far, all of the “dreamy” men as one composite:

My personal favorite - Clooney, Ledger, Timberlake and (Kelly) Slater

My personal favorite – Clooney, Ledger, Timberlake and (Kelly) Slater

Honestly, after setting up the command and getting the images the same size and aligned, it was super easy just to drag-and-drop the ones I wanted to see mixed up. The variations were way too funny, and I was genuinely surprised at how some of them turned out.

About the author: Pat David is a Director of R&D by day, and an amateur photographer by night (and some weekends). You can find him writing up GIMP tutorials and other errata on his blog, or peruse more of his photography experiments on his Flickr page. This article originally appeared here.

  • Thomas Hawk

    wonderful work!

  • Pat David

    Thanks! I appreciate that! :)

    I also just did all the U.S. presidents:

    These things are addicting!

  • Gord


  • Pat David

    hah! A comment over on G+ said that they look like what they sound like when they talk. I thought that was pretty good too!

  • MMielech

    What I learned today is that this Martin Scholler fellow shot so many of these awful portraits. I thought he subjected only a few subjects to this method of his. How to make celebrities ugly. Teach that pony another trick.

  • Vlad Dusil

    I suppose that the day that you can get all these characters in front of your lens, you can do a better job at the portraiture.

    Good luck.

  • A P Photography

    More emperors running round naked…

  • 43423423423

    honest if you don´t have any creative ideas then go average things…. but don´t expect above average results…..

  • brandon

    100% they are very unflattering, much to close. the lighting is okay, but really, get a new gig.

  • Peter

    Did you try scaling them so the mouths aligned?

  • Pat David

    I didn’t. I just made sure the eyes were on the same level, and roughly the same scale. It gets better/creepier if I take a few extra moments to align the eyes, and scale do they both fit (see my image of miss America 2012 to see what I mean)

  • Bill E. Lytton

    Did this one of Obama, based on Jeremy Tubbs’ work that was featured here some time ago.

  • Wesolowsky

    Since it is such a trendy topic lately I have to ask, how did you acquire Martin Shoeller’s shots for this project?
    The project itself is really interesting and produced nice output. :)

  • Wesolowsky

    Shoeller’s work isn’t supposed to be pretty and flattering to its subject. The main concept seams to be averaging all people and “stripping” them of their fame, hi-life, glamour etc.

  • MMielech


  • Wesolowsky

    Yes :)

  • DevourCatering

    that was an interesting approach. I tended to see more of one person than the blend

  • nosarious

    I hate to be a downer, but have you considered the possibility of copyright infringement that you have done her. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but do postst like this that uses someone else’s creative work outside the contexts that they originally intended not condone copyright infringement.

    It’s an interesting result, but I would be somwhat angry if anyone misused my creative work outside what I intended.

  • Derangio

    Not sure I have seen a comment that looked professional but here I am and well done.