Jeff Smallwood Photography
Creating the Droste Effect
Oct 27, 2011

Have you ever pointed a video camera at the monitor where the live image is being displayed. Have you ever pointed your webcam at your computer screen and witnessed the screen in a screen in a screen ad infinitum? I know I used to do that all the time as a kid, always with a twinge of guilt that somehow the infinity point might break the screen.

After, with Droste effect applied

Many, if not most people will recognize the image effect immediately. But fewer will know the effect by its name. I'd posted before about some of the interesting effects you can get with the Adobe Pixel Bender plugin for Photoshop, including a nice oil painting output that I used on this image. The effect I used for the image above is the Droste effect. The Droste is a recursive picture or image where a smaller version of an image is placed in the original image and the cycle continues ever smaller and smaller. There is a Droste effect plugin in the Adobe Pixel Bender suite. The image below is the "before" to the image above.

Before, original image


The effect's namesake

The Droste effect is named from a brand of cacao.  The confectionary company was founded  in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1863 by Gerardus Johannes Droste. Although the technique of placing a copy of an image inside an image originated long before 1863, one of the most famous examples of the effect was made popular from one of the company's advertisements (seen on the left).

From the history posted on the Droste website:

"Around the year 1900 the illustration of the "nurse" appeared on Droste's cocoa tins. This is most probably invented by the commercial artist Jan (Johannes) Musset, who had been inspired by a pastel of the Swiss painter Jean Etienne Liotard "La serveuse de chocolat", also known as "La belle chocolatière". The illustration indicated the wholesome effect of chocolate milk and became inextricably bound with the name Droste."

The steps used to create the effect are quite easy. Once you have the plugin installed in Photoshop open your image (a naturally framed image works best), the go to the Pixel Bender filter.

Once the plugin is open, select the "Droste" option.

Then you'll see your image on the left and all the controls on the right. You'll need to play with the options in order to get the effect you desire, but pay special attention to the rotate and zoom options.

The entire plugin screen while I was working on the image above.
Click for larger view.

Here is the final result:

As I stated, the images this effect works best with are images that have natural framing in them. Strong borders provide the framing and edges that really bring the effect to life. This is a photo of an old windows from an abandoned building that I took earlier in the year. The original is here, and below are the results of the Droste plugin.

Download the plugin and have fun!

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