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How to Create a Cool Droste Effect Photo

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Related course: Wow Factor Photography

What is it called when you see a picture within a picture?

The answer is the Droste Effect, and it’s an exciting and creative way to show a scene photographically. Also known as a mise en abyme, this technique involves placing a copy of an image inside the same image. The result creates an illusion of a photo repeating infinitely.

A Droste effect image with a tablet and camera gear
Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

So what does Droste mean? This photography technique got its name from a Dutch cocoa company that used the technique for its branding. Their packaging tin depicted an image designed by Jan Misset in 1904. The design displayed a nurse carrying a serving tray with a cup of hot chocolate and a box with the same picture. A variety of products still use this effect to this day.

To do the Droste effect you only need one image to edit in Photoshop or Photo Spiralysis. Keep reading to see how to create your very own picture-in-a-picture creation!

The packaging of Droste cocoa tin depicting an image designed by Jan Misset in 1904.

Droste Effect Method One – Photoshop

Let’s go through all the steps you need to spiral an image in Photoshop below.

A man holding a framed painting outdoors

Step One – Open your image in Photoshop.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a picture of a man holding a framed painting - droste effect step one

Step Two – Duplicate and paste the image.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a picture of a man holding a framed painting

Step Three – Use Free Transform to scale the image down to size.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a picture of a man holding a framed painting

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting

Step Four – Place it over the area you are going to edit.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting - droste-effect step four

Step Five – Drag the smaller picture to the bottom of the layer stack.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing software

Step Six – Select the Quick Selection Tool.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting - droste-effect step six

Step Seven – Select the area the picture will go in.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting - droste-effect step seven

Step Eight – Select the Eraser Tool.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting - droste-effect step eight

Step Nine – Erase the areas to show the layer underneath.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting - droste-effect step nine

Step Ten – Repeat Steps 2 to 10 as many times as you need.

Screenshot of Photoshop editing a photo of a man holding a framed painting - droste effect step ten

And here you have the final result.

The final droste effect image of a man appearing to hold a photo within a photo within a photo

Droste Effect Method Two – Photo Spiralysis

The other method is to open your file in Photo Spiralysis. Below is the image we’ll be using as an example.

The original image of a man holding a framed painting outdoors

Step One – Open the webpage of Photo Spiralysis. Click on the folder icon in the top left-hand corner to import your file.

Screenshot of opening the web page of Photo Spiralysis

Step Two – Familiarise yourself with the settings. Magnification makes the picture larger or smaller. Spirals make more or less spirals in the image, and Stretch allows you to stretch the picture further.

Step two of creating a droste effect photo on Photospiralysis

Step Three – The red dot in the middle is the centre-point. This is the area you need to click and drag to adjust the pictures.

Screenshot of step three of creating a droste effect photo on Photospiralysis

Step Four – First – We change the spirals to 2. This is when we start to see a change in our file.

Screenshot of step four of creating a droste effect image on Photospiralysis

Step Five – The aim is to ensure the picture inside the frame we are using is not visible in our final image.

Screenshot of step five on Photospiralysis

Step Six – Change the magnification to 2 to get more images repeated, hiding the areas we do not want.

Screenshot of changing the magnification on Photospiralysis

Step Seven – By changing the Stretch from 1 to 1.1 gives us a very drastic change. Now, we start to see our picture take shape.

Screenshot of changing the stretch on Photospiralysis to create a droste effect photo

Step Eight – Play around with the placement of the image by moving the red dot (centre-point).

Screenshot of image placement on Photospiralysis to create a droste effect photo

Step Nine – Change the magnification and stretch to find the perfect combination. We found that 2.8 magnification showed us we were on the right track.

Screenshot of changing the magnification on Photospiralysis to create a droste effect photo

Step Ten – Our final numbers were Magnification = 2.836, Spirals = 2 and Stretch = 1.103.

Screenshot of editing in Photospiralysis

Step Eleven – Click on the create the final image icon, then render and save.

Screenshot of saving an image in Photospiralysis

And there we have it—an image with a spiral that repeats itself indefinitely.

It can be a little finicky to get right, but with patience and time, you can get exciting results.

The final image of a man appearing to hold a photo within a photo within a photo

For more great Photoshop projects, check out our posts on turning photos into paintings or the cool photoshop trick ‘insomnia.’

Examples of Droste Effect Photography

Droste Effect photography is one of the topics we cover in our creative photography course, Wow Factor Photography. Below are some of the photos taken by our students. If you’d like to learn more, check out the course here.

Droste effect photo
Photo by Stacy Anne McCormack
Droste effect photo
Photo by Stacy Anne McCormack
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