Is a Playboy Centerfold Really the Standard Test Image for Image Processing Algorithms?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to architecture and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the magazine urban legends featured so far.

MAGAZINE URBAN LEGEND: A Playboy centerfold is the standard test image for image processing algorithms.

It was in 1973 that Alexander Sawchuk, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Signal and Image Processing Institute, and a graduate student were looking for a good image to scan for a colleague’s conference paper.

They wanted something glossy and they wanted something with a human face and, most of all, they wanted something that seemed a bit out of the ordinary – something that would pop a bit more than the standard test images they always used.

Well, someone happened to have a copy of a recent issue of Playboy (I don’t know if it was the LATEST Playboy or not) and the men decided that, hey, why not use the centerfold?

Little did they know how famous this photo would become…

The centerfold was of Lena Söderberg (who Playboy changed to Lenna Söderberg for some reason). The image was cut a bit before being used.

Here is the image…

The whole “out of the ordinary” nature of the image, plus its very nice texture (depth, shading, etc.) plus, of course, the whole “it’s a Playboy centerfold” thing, made the image a bit hit. Soon, it was used basically everywhere.

In fact, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology brought Ms. Söderberg out for their 50th Anniversry conference as the keynote speaker!

Naturally, there are some critics of the use of the image.

On the one hand, some folks feel that it is fairly sexist to use a Playboy centerfold as the main test image.

On another hand, some people feel it is wrong to use a copyrighted image in such a manner (Playboy, for its part, while they normally aggressively protect their copyrights, have let them “get away” with using the image, figuring it was good publicity).

Amusingly enough, according to Playboy, the issue with the Söderberg centerfold was their highest-selling issue EVER (Playboy’s popularity as a magazine peaked in the early 1970s).

Can you imagine Söderberg’s reaction when asked to give a speech at the Society for Imaging Science and Technology?

The legend is…


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2 Responses to “Is a Playboy Centerfold Really the Standard Test Image for Image Processing Algorithms?”

  1. Re: the “Lenna” image:

    -Ms. Söderberg’s name is spelled Lena but pronounced Lenna. Playboy presumably changed it to the phonetic version so that readers would prounce it correctly.

    -She was Miss November 1972. The image was first used in July 1973.

    -The image wasn’t cropped due to the nudity-the top third of the centerfold was the only part that fit on the drum used to scan the image. It was further cropped out of size necessity so that her face was prominently featured.

  2. Horace Boothroyd III on December 23rd, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    That is a photo, not of Lena but of a different woman with the same name.

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