The droste effect

Students will investigate how various images can be manipulated using Adobe Photoshop to create interesting and postmodern interpretations.

In these lessons, students will develop their technical knowledge of digital photography following the video tutorial and associated image files on the 'droste effect' technique (ZIP 2.44 MB). Once they have mastered the techniques using the supplied sample images, students are then encouraged to take their own photographic images then apply the same techniques to them. This is a part of a lesson sequence that is designed to assist students in creating a folio of images.


  • 5.1 develops range and autonomy in selecting and applying photographic and digital conventions and procedures to make photographic and digital works.
  • 5.3 makes photographic and digital works informed by an understanding of how the frames affect meaning.
  • 5.6 selects appropriate procedures and techniques to make and refine photographic and digital works.


2 weeks.

Driving question

How could you link the ideas of the art movement surrealism to the postmodern droste effect?



Students will develop their skills and knowledge of photographic practice using still digital images and manipulate them through the Adobe Photoshop program. They will use a digital journal or art book to document their experiments.

Conceptual framework

Students will investigate the relationship between the artist, artwork, world and audience. They will explore the art agencies relating to their own art making as a digital artist and how it is connected to practicing photographers, audiences and the world.


Students will use the postmodern and structural frame to establish different points of view about their photographic practice.

  • Information and communication technology
  • Work, employment and enterprise
  • Numeracy.


All activities require students to demonstrate their learning and are all assessment for learning activities.

Process Diary

Students are to:

  • document the process and technical shortcuts through practical classes in a process diary. This should be a journal, exploring reflections of each practical lesson or section investigating the different techniques explored. This can be their class workbooks, a photographic and digital media process diary, or an online blog through sites such as Class Notebook or Google classroom.

Teaching and learning activities

Students will need:

  • Adobe Photoshop software on a class set of laptops, or in a computer lab
  • Headphones for each student (optional)
  • Any device that can take a photograph.

Students will:

  • view the images on the droste effect Pinterest board
  • discuss and analyse the images through leading questions such as:
    • what do you think the photographer has used to create this?
    • how do you think they made it?
    • does anyone in the room know some of the Adobe Photoshop techniques the photographer used?
  • watch the Droste tutorial (17:14)
Droste tutorial

Anna McCauley

Hi everyone and welcome back. My name's Anna McCauley and today you're going to be looking at doing an online tutorial on the Droste effect, which is very cool special effect which basically gives the impression of multiple images. This is a simple version but the more complex ones connects the layers together and that's a little bit more advanced, so we're not going to be doing that today. So we're going to have a go at doing an image like this, but what I've done is I've made the image that you're going to work on a square and that's a really good thing to do to start with so if you crop us into a square, just like an insta square, it's much easier to do what we're going to do. So that's my advice is to make a square first and we'll get into it, alright here we go.

So the first thing you can do is just to open up one image and you can make this a picture of any one or you can use the one that I've provided. You'll find that and a link in the Pinterest or your teacher may have downloaded that for you onto a network. So if you just want to click on Droste profile pic, and go so. The first thing we're going to do is to make a white nice little border and it's not too hard. So what we're going to do is a new layer. So a couple ways to do that you can go layer, new, layer, shift, control n, or you can click on the button next to the bin. Create new layer. You click on that it'll give you layout

1. Now we want this layer 1 to be at the bottom underneath the original. So you're gonna hold your mouse down the left mouse hold it down and drag that down. Your originals up here now, you layer ones down on the bottom. If it's locked if it's got a little lock on it, you have to unlock it first. All right, so that's the easy thing so now what we're going to do is we're going to make this original a little smaller, and instead of dragging it yourself because you can really easily not get that right, I'm gonna show you a little trick. And this is technique really is the thing we're going to be using through the whole thing.

So this is a really easy technique that I'm going to show you. Make sure that you've clicked on your original and that it's blue and it's highlighted. You're going to go control-t. This is the shortcut of the day. We're going to be using that all the time. Ctrl T or command T on your Mac, and that

is transforming your image. So here we go. Ctrl T, and you can see how it's giving you a box around it. Now what we want to do is be able to change that scale of it without disturbing its ratio. Now you can drag it in by holding your shift key down, which will maintain the ratio but an easier way which I will do, is you go up here and this is what we're going to be using through the whole thing. You click on maintain aspect ratio (so see how that box is now highlighted there) and you can change either the height the width or the height, because they're both going to work together, and we're just gonna make that.

So I'm just gonna, I'm just holding my mouse down and highlighting it, and then I'm gonna type in 95. And see what that's done is it's brought the image in. Double click or press Enter to get that to work so it's no longer highlighted. All right. That's step one now what we want to do is click back on our layer 1, and we would like to fill that instead of it being see-through, fill the mean it might look quite cool see-through too but we could we want to fill it with white or black, either either, so you can just go to your double click on the color down there, it's going to go to white.

Go okay and because I'm on layer one, if you're not on your right layer, this will look bad because you'll end up clicking paint all over your face. You're going to use the fill tool which was here, if you can't find it it's under your gradient tool. With your fill tool which looks like this, or you can use a big brush and go around it, and click and fill the image with white. Now you can see how layer one has filled with the image with white? That's what we want.

Now you can merge that down so it's one layer, and go ctrl e. There you have it! You have one image now that is complete and has a nice beautiful white border around it. If that is too complicated for you to start with, don't worry about doing that step, and just focus on getting the image right and then you might like to go back and have attempted that. So now we're gonna once you've still got your fill tool you've got to be careful with that because we don't want to fill our face with white, go back up to your move tool, press V just as a shortcut and that will get rid of that.

Now we seem to have lost our name original so click on the layer 1 again and call it original again. So the first shortcut that I'm going to teach you which is really easy one, and once you've done this tutorial you're really going to know it off by heart, is ctrl J - which duplicates your layer.

If you get stuck, you can go to layer, duplicate your layer there and that will do the same thing. Or you can right click on your mouse and this in the duplicate layer is there as well. So if you go ctrl T, which is edit transform ctrl T, boxes around that and what we're going to do next is click up, maintain the aspect ratio and that's where it says that there - maintain aspect ratio, and what that does, is it allows you to keep the widths and the height of the same. Which is what we want and all we do you have to do then, is go to either our height or our width, highlight it along, just like we did when we made the white square, and we're gonna start now dropping that size down.

Now this depends on what you want and how complicated. I'm just gonna go down in 10s and you've just got to keep remembering what you've done. So this one's going to be 19 and double-click on, or press ENTER and that applies to transform. Now you can see you have two images. One which was a hundred percent, the next one which is ninety.

That's all we do. And then we repeat, however, the trick to it is is to always go off your original file, that way it keeps the resolution and quality of the image being repeated. Because if you keep if you copy a copy of a copy of a copy it starts getting pixelated really quickly, and you can see that in some of the images that people have put on the net where they haven't taken it from the original source, that is why we call it original. So being that said, we're gonna click back on original, and this gets this is easy for now, but when you have a few layers you've got to drag it right up to the top but I'll explain that.

So the shortcut what was that? To duplicate the layer, does anyone remember? Ctrl J. Got it! Now it says original copy too, which is great. But what we want to do before we transform it, is always remember to drag that copy up to the top. It has to sit on top of every one and because it's not been resized, it still will look like the originals it looks like you've lost, it but you haven't.

So now working on original copy 2, by clicking on that make sure it's blue. We're going to do the shortcut for transform which was, ctrl or command is Mac command T or ctrl T, like that. So ctrl T go up to hit the bar with the maintain aspect ratio, highlight the height. It's a bit tricky to them and last time we went to 90, so now I'm going to go to 80. And you can tell you get it right because it would look like that. If you get it wrong, it will look like smaller or something like that. If you're happy with that, press Enter or double click in it, and it will be transformed. So far so good. Next one. Click on, you got it, the original image. Duplicate it. How do you do that?

What's the shortcut? Ctrl J. Now it says original copy 3. You bring that up to the top pallet, so I held my mouse down and I dragged it up the top – still on highlights. And we should have original, original copy, original copy two, and original copy 3. We're now gonna transform this. What's the shortcut? Ctrl T. You got it. Then we go to our aspect ratio and because we did, what did we do?

This is when you got to ... I'm talking too much and I can't remember. So go to 90, 80 so this will be 70. Highlight it, go type 70 on your keyboard. Oh looking good! And press Enter or click that tick, it'll be easier or double-click in it, and that is done. And repeat. Clicking on original, Ctrl J, that copy is the original, draw holding your mouse, down drag it up the top, let it go, it's now says copy four. We now do Ctrl T to transform it. We now hit our aspect ratio, adjust our height to 60.

Excellent. You can click this tick here, that also makes it work or you can double click in the image. That's usually what I do, just trying to be a bit fancy. So you can go do repeat this process as many times as you like. You could go instead of doing by 10s, you could go 95 90 85 80 you know, down that way if you wanted to. So I'm gonna do it again which is the original, bound to the original, Ctrl J. You've got to duplicate that original or layer duplication is all we're doing. We're gonna hold our mouse down and we're gonna drag it up, the top let it sit there. We're not gonna panic, we know we've got all those layers underneath.

Now you have to transform it. What do you do? Ctrl T. See you're starting to learn the shortcuts. I bet you are. Then you'll never want to go long all the way up to here, you might rather just press it a shortcut on a keyboard. Go to your work width ratio set, and what did we do, I've forgotten now. We're on 60 or was it 50? See how that goes, yeah. Or was it 40?-I'll just double-check that, no. It's too much, so good. That's 50. See how I forget, but it's easy to check? Here, so you just don't press enter, or press that tick when you're done. Looking good.

Now doing ctrl J first, beautiful now it's number 6, take number 6 up, keep it in that order. So now at 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We're not going to panic because it's blocked it, we're gonna transform it. Ctrl T to transform. Click on the original 6, ctrl T, if it's not highlighted it won't work. Was it 50 or 40 now? 40, whoa. Tick the tick if you want there, that will keep it. Shall we do another one? So you can keep going. You can even change this face at the end if you want to or something, you know make it just white or black or whatever. People put hands in it as well so that's a little bit harder.

So this one we're starting off is easy. Click on the original, not even going to say it, you can just do it. How'd you go? So did you remember?Clicking on the original, control J, so now number 8, drag it all the way up to the top, ctrl T, to transform it, aspect ratio 30. Whoo! Alright. So I'm going to stop there but obviously you can keep going if you like, really, it depends on the look in the image that you want. You can go down forever. Once you're happy with your image, you need to flatten all those layers and I've shown you how to do that before, but we'll try and do that again.

So you're going to go to, you're going to .. Go to layer an image, there we go, so now it's back to one background layout with a lock. And that looks pretty cool. So after that, you save it. File, save as, and I might save it as Droste profile pic number 2 and a PNG. If you want a smaller file, jpg or bitmap, these files are going to be quite big as well. Oh it's not actually, it's only 1mg, that's okay. And okay, alright, that is done. Good luck!

Please post some stuff up on YouTube and show me or give me a link to some on Pinterest. If you create something like this, I'd love to see them and a happy photoshopping! Enjoy that one. It's pretty easy. Memorise the shortcuts ctrl J and ctrl T. That's all it is. Okay, until next, time happy photoshopping.

[End of transcript]

  • discuss the key techniques used.

Allow students to watch the tutorial again with headphones. This provides students with an opportunity to pace themselves according to their prior knowledge and level.

Students are to complete the tutorial using Adobe Photoshop and save the image for the teacher to assess.

Once completed, students will:

  • take one image that is surrounded by a frame in some way, or they can use their picture frame images that they designed from the see through frame exercise.

Students will:

  • take an image in good light to avoid blurry photos or using the cameras ISO settings if possible to adjust for low light needs by increasing it.
  • transfer the images from the camera. This can be done using a card reader, email or Bluetooth
  • follow the video tutorial again using their images as a step by step guide
  • flatten the layers through the Adobe Photoshop command before finishing
  • save the image as a PNG file or JPEG, not a PSD.

Students are to complete a digital or hard copy journal to document their ideas and processes required. This can be completed through one-note.

Teachers are encouraged to communicate online developing their google site or google classroom.



Teachers are encouraged to provide students with acceleration activities if required.

Students could:

  • create the droste effect image connecting individual layers together using Adobe Photoshop techniques such as transform to modify the composition so that it loops seamlessly, creating an infinity effect.

Life skills


  • LS 1 experiences a variety of artmaking activities.
  • LS 2 explores a variety of materials, techniques and processes.
  • LS 9 uses a range of materials, techniques and processes to make artworks.

Students will:

  • watch the Droste tutorial (17:14)
  • use example files provided and attempt the Adobe Photoshop tutorial. Teachers should give students extra time and support where required.
  • research a range of photographic images from the internet that use similar techniques, cutting and pasting into OneNote.


Formative assessment can be used to determine learning progress throughout the lesson sequences. Teachers should informally assess a student's level of understanding and adapt accordingly.

Summative assessment can be used at the end of the lesson sequences. Students could hand in a folio of finished images, either on google classroom or printed out. This could be marked as against a benchmark. Students could also hand in their journal for marking as well.

This sequence and accompanying worksheets are available as word documents below.


Please note:

Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from Photographic and Digital Media 7–10 Syllabus (2004) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.

Return to top of page Back to top