Photographic Mosaic

In the field of photographic imaging, a photographic mosaic, also known under the term Photomosaic, a portmanteau of photo and mosaic, is a picture (usually a photograph) that has been divided into (usually equal sized) tiled sections, each of which is replaced with another photograph that matches the target photo. When viewed at low magnifications, the individual pixels appear as the primary image, while close examination reveals that the image is in fact made up of many hundreds or thousands of smaller images. Most of the time they are a computer-created type of montage. There are two kinds of mosaic, depending on how the matching is done. In the simpler kind, each part of the target image is averaged down to a single color. Each of the library images is also reduced to a single color. Each part of the target image is then replaced with one from the library where these colors are as similar as possible. In effect, the target image is reduced in resolution (by downsampling), and then each of the resulting pixels is replaced with an image whose average color matches that pixel.

In the more advanced kind of photographic mosaic, the target image is not downsampled, and the matching is done by comparing each pixel in the rectangle to the corresponding pixel from each library image. The rectangle in the target is then replaced with the library image that minimizes the total difference. This requires much more computation than the simple kind, but the results can be much better since the pixel-by-pixel matching can preserve the resolution of the target image. There is debate over whether Photomosaics are an art or mere technique. The making of a photomosaic is sometimes paralled and compared to forms of artistic appropriation, like literary assemblage. Artists such as David Hockney, Christopher Kates and Pep Ventosa have pioneered their own photographic mosaic techniques where multiple photographs are taken of a scene and then pieced together again to create a cohesive image.

Photographic mosaics are typically formed from a collection of still images. A more recent phenomenon, however, has been video mosaics which assemble video clips rather than still images to create a larger image. The closing credits of the 2005 PlayStation 2 game God of War, for example, incorporates a still image of the main character, Kratos, formed from a number of in-game videos. The term “video mosaic” also describes a large still image made from adjacent frames of video, such as those from video shots of geographic features like roads or cities. A mosaic of the video’s relevant frames replaces the full video, saving time and bandwidth, since the stills are much smaller.