Mundane Monday: Fun with Prisma

Prisma is an app, available for iphone and android, that enables you to convert photos into artwork. It is almost scary how easy it is to use and transform ordinary phone photographs into pictures that look like paintings or prints. I first tried it on our trip to Santa Barbara over Thanksgiving, and was pleased with what it did with a gnarled tree.

More recently, for the Mundane Monday Challenge #93, I took a picture of a ship from Pier 39 in San Francisco, and ran it through several of the Prisma filters:



There’s also the Pier 39 Christmas Tree:

And another view of the branches and leaves that inspired a previous Mundane Monday posting (this is the same filter as the last one I used for the ship, above):


Another filter used on another part of the same wall gets me a photo that brings to mind pressed flowers and almost-forgotten memories. The end of an era, and the coming of the winter.


My eye seems to be most fascinated by the shapes and color and compositions that the app reveals. I agree with the author of this article, that “This mind-blowing photo app makes Instagram’s filters look so lame,” but I’m surprised that virtually every article about Prisma that I’ve read on the internet has showcased transformed photographs of people, rather than photographs of landscapes, still-lifes, or other abstract forms.

Take this article from The Guardian, for example: “Why everyone is crazy for Prisma, the app that turns photos into works of art. The photos shown are iconic photos of celebrities everyone knows–Serena Williams, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian–transformed by Prisma filters into something else.

I don’t personally find most of the pictures in this article to be an improvement on the originals. Actual photographs of Serena Williams–for example, as seen in her Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year photo shoot–capture her unique blend of strength, power, grace, and femininity better than the Prisma one does. I’d also encourage those who are concerned with the possibility that Prisma is going to put human painters of athletes out of business to check out Leroy Neiman’s work, including this painting of Venus and Serena. Paintings, unlike Prisma, have the advantage of being freed from photographic constraints.

The political Prismas aren’t much better. The filter chosen for Clinton makes her look like an awkward insertion into the stained glass window of a 1960s church. And the filter chosen for the President and Vice-President-Elect makes them look like dopey dorks with big chins. As was the case with Williams, actual professional photographs, such as those from the photo shoot for Trump’s Time Person of the Year cover, are much better art than this.

So I am not overly concerned that Prisma will put artists, photographers, cartoonists, and portrait makers out of business. Prisma is just another tool. What I think Prisma does especially well is enables amateurs like me to see the world, and our own attempts at capturing it, in a different and more creative light. It gives us possibilities that we might not have seen before. I put that ship photo through 9 different Prisma filters: some of the results were better than others, and some will probably never see the light of day again because, as complete compositions, they just didn’t work.

Some of these failed attempts contained elements, like the surprise wisp of blue sky, or the clouds that look like seagulls, or the extra contrast between the ship and the water, that might make a painting say what I need it to say.

Prisma can bring out hidden gems that you might not have even realized were there.



7 thoughts on “Mundane Monday: Fun with Prisma”

  1. What an interesting post… I’ve seen people use this app for nature, but I’d not seen it used with people. It quite sucked, actually. You’re right. They ALL look like stained glass windows. Not at all attractive. I think the picture must have to be just right. Like the tree or vine (which was it?) at the side of the building. I may have to see if I can download this to my tablet and fiddle around with it. Great post, Karen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As fun as these photo editing apps are (and I have a few on my phone and iPad), I agree that they are often over-used to the detriment of the photo. They cannot turn a non-artist into an artist or a bad photo into a good one; all they can do is alter a photo in (maybe) interesting ways. More is often not better, it’s just more. Having said that, I have seen some photos edited by some talented photographers/artists that are amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the apps are another tool, almost another type of medium. What it seems to be able to do for me is take something that has an interesting composition and emphasize the right parts of the composition while whittling away noise. I think the original photo of trees, at bottom, is nothing special, but the prisma filter emphasized the line and shapes of the trees in an interesting and much more eye-catching way, as seen in the featured photo. The trees and the angles of the branches are what I saw in my mind’s eye and wanted to emphasize. That didn’t really come out well in the untouched photo, but it did in the filtered one.


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