Introduction to DROSTE EFFECT

Droste effect, also known as “mise en abyme”, is a picture showing the same picture within itself. The inner picture is a smaller version of the outer picture, and it contains an even smaller version of the same picture within itself. The effect is recursive, and theoretically it goes to infinity. However, the pixels on the screens limit the number of occurrences. So in geekman's terms, the effect is quantized.


Droste effect is named after the Droste Cocoa powder manufacturing company, which in 1904 introduced an image of a person carrying a box of cocoa powder, and on that box was a picture of the same person carrying the same box and so on. This image became very famous and has since been used at many places.


There are several ways in which you can make such images. Photoshop (up to CS5) had a support for Pixel Bender. In Pixel Bender, there was a plugin for droste effect. But since CS6, adobe has stopped Pixel Bender support on PS.

So we in this tutorial would use Gimp (open source brother of PS). Along with Gimp, you would also need to download and install the Mathmap (version 1.0.1). Steps to download and install gimp and mathmap are shown below.

  • Gimp:
    • Go to this http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ link and download Gimp (I’m using v2.8).
    • Install it.
  • Mathmap:
    • Go to this http://www.complang.tuwien.ac.at/schani/mathmap/ link and download the latest stable release of mathmap.
    • Unzip it.
    • Copy mathmap.exe, libgsl.dll, libgslcblas.dll into the gimp plugin directory. (It must be something like: C:\Program Files\GIMP-2.0\lib\gimp\2.0\plug-ins)
    • Copy mathmaprc and new_template.c into a new directory (folder) named C:\Documents and Settings\ "your_user_name" \.gimp-2.2\mathmap.
  • Download the Droste Effect code for mathmap from https://www.flickr.com/groups/88221799@N00/discuss/72157601071820707.
Now, we are good to go!!

Taking the picture

First step to make a good image is to plan the picture. The desired effect can’t be achieved simply by post processing. You first need to figure out what you want your end results to be. Go through the web for examples on what you could do with this technique. Start simple. And then try to innovate. There are just too many options and settings in the plugin. We’ll discuss that later.

We basically would have to crop out a part of the picture where we want a recursive effect. For the first time, keep it simple; take a shot with a circle or a rectangle in the centre that can be easily cropped out. I have used a picture of my phone.

Steps to create Droste Effect

Now follow the following steps to get the Droste Effect:

  1. 1. Select the area to crop. Here it is a rectangle (the screen). I have used the paths tool. You can use any tool as per your picture.
  2. 2. Add an alpha channel before cropping the selection. Do this by right clicking the layer, and selecting Add Alpha Channel.
    Right click the layer-> select “Add Alpha Channel”
  3. 3. Then delete the selection done in the 1st step.
  4. 4. Deselect any selection in the image. Having anything selected would create problems in MathMap.
  5. 5. Go to: Filters-> Generic->Mathmap->Mathmap
  6. 6. Select Preview. You could see your entire image on the left part of the window.
  7. 7. Click on Load. And select “droste.mm” file. This would open droste code you downloaded.
  8. 8. Now go to “Filters” tab, and double click “droste”. The preview would look somewhat like the following image.
  9. 9. Go to “User Values” tab and play around with sliders and checkboxes. It’s easy to use once you get a hang of it.
  10. 10. When you are finished, click on “OK”.
  11. 11. Depending on the size of the image and the configuration of your machine, the time taken for processing the image will vary. Be patient.
  12. 12. Finally, crop the image to get the final result.
  13. 13. Post the picture on 500px/facebook/Instagram.

Some of my results