Lenna or Lena is the name given to a standard test image widely used in the field of image processing since 1973. It is a picture of the Swedish model Lena Söderberg, shot by photographer Dwight Hooker, cropped from the centerfold of the November 1972 issue of Playboy magazine.
Before Lenna, the first use of a Playboy magazine image to illustrate image processing algorithms was in 1961. Lawrence G. Roberts used two cropped 6-bit grayscale facsimile scanned images from Playboy's July 1960 issue featuring Playmate Teddi Smith (born Delilah Henry), in his MIT master's thesis on image dithering.
Intended for high resolution color image processing study, the Lenna picture's history was described in the May 2001 newsletter of the IEEE Professional Communication Society, in an article by Jamie Hutchinson:
Alexander Sawchuk estimates that it was in June or July of 1973 when he, then an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California Signal and Image Processing Institute (SIPI), along with a graduate student and the SIPI lab manager, was hurriedly searching the lab for a good image to scan for a colleague's conference paper. They got tired of their stock of usual test images, dull stuff dating back to television standards work in the early 1960s. They wanted something glossy to ensure good output dynamic range, and they wanted a human face. Just then, somebody happened to walk in with a recent issue of Playboy.
The engineers tore away the top third of the centerfold so they could wrap it around the drum of their Muirhead wirephoto scanner, which they had outfitted with analog-to-digital converters (one each for the red, green, and blue channels) and a Hewlett Packard 2100 minicomputer. The Muirhead had a fixed resolution of 100 lines per inch and the engineers wanted a 512×512 image, so they limited the scan to the top 5.12 inches of the picture, effectively cropping it at the subject's shoulders.
This scan became one of the most used images in computer history. In a 1999 issue of IEEE Transactions on Image Processing "Lena" was used in three separate articles, and the picture continued to appear in scientific journals throughout the beginning of the 21st century. Lenna is so widely accepted in the image processing community that Söderberg was a guest at the 50th annual Conference of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T) in 1997. The use of the photo in electronic imaging has been described as "clearly one of the most important events in [its]history". In 2015, Lena Söderberg was also guest of honor at the banquet of IEEE ICIP 2015. After delivering a speech, she chaired the best paper award ceremony.
To explain Lenna's popularity, David C. Munson, editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, noted that it was a good test image because of its detail, flat regions, shading, and texture. However, he also noted that its popularity was largely because an image of an attractive woman appealed to the males in a male-dominated field.
While Playboy often cracks down on illegal uses of its material and did initially send out notices to research publications and journals that used the image, over time it has decided to overlook the wide use of Lena. Eileen Kent, VP of new media at Playboy said, "We decided we should exploit this, because it is a phenomenon."
Engineers, researchers, and students who are familiar with image processing or compression has most likely used the picture of "Lenna" or "Lena" in their experiments or project assignments, as the Lenna picture is one of the most widely used standard test images. Today, the use of Lenna image has been recognized as one of the most important events in the history of electronic imaging. However, very few people have seen the original picture and know the complete story of Lenna. Here is the materials about Lenna I have recently found on the Internet, which includes the recent picture of Lenna in May 1997.
Who is "Lenna" or "Lena"?
From the comp.compression FAQ, we can find that "Lenna" or "Lena" is a digitized Playboy centerfold, from November 1972. Lenna is the spelling in Playboy, Lena is the Swedish spelling of her name. (In English, Lena is sometimes spelled Lenna, to encourage proper pronounciation.) Lena Soderberg (ne Sjooblom) was last reported living in her native Sweden, happily married with three kids and a job with the state liquor monopoly. In 1988, she was interviewed by some Swedish computer related publication, and she was pleasantly amused by what had happened to her picture. That was the first she knew of the use of that picture in the computer business.
When and where the Lenna picture creates?
In the Playboy and Wired News, we know that in the early Seventies Lenna's Playboy centerfold was scanned in by an unknown researcher at the University of Southern California to use as a test image for digital image compression research. Since that time, images of the Playmate have been used as the industry standard for testing ways in which pictures can be manipulated and transmitted electronically. Over the past 25 years, no image has been more important in the history of imaging and electronic communications, and today the mysterious Lenna is considered the First Lady of the Internet.
Why using the "Lenna" image?
Two reason was stated in "A Note on Lena" by David C. Munson. First, the Lenna image contains a nice mixture of detail, flat regions, shading, and texture that do a good job of testing various image processing algorithms. It is a good test image! Second, the Lena image is a picture of an attractive woman. It is not surprising that the (mostly male) image processing research community gravitated toward an image that they found attractive.
Who create the "Lenna" image?
In October 29, 1999, I received an email from Chuck McNanis telling us that the "unknown researcher" who scanned the "Lenna" image was Dr. William K. Pratt. Here is the email:
I worked for 5 years ('78 - '83) at the Image Processing Institute as a system programmer in the Image Processing Lab (IPL) which distributed Lenna and several other images (including the Mandril) which people often refer to as "The baboon image." The "unknown researcher" was Dr. William K. Pratt, now of Sun Microsystems, who was writing a book on image processing and he needed some standard images for it. For a long time the folded up centerfold that had been the basis for that image was in the file cabinet at the lab. I went back in 1997 to visit and the lab has undergone many changes and the original image files were nowhere to be found. The original distribution format was 1600BPI 9-track tape with each color plane stored separately.
Chuck McManis (USC Class of '83)
Want to see the original Lenna?
The standard digital Lenna image is just a closeup of the original picture with her face and bare shoulder. Recently, Chuck Rosenberg obtained a copy of the original Playboy Magazine and put it on the Internet. Here's a glimpse:
Want to see the Lenna in 1997?
No problem! Lenna was invited to attend the 50th Anniversary IS&T conference in Boston on May 1997. With the assistance of Playboy, Jeff Seideman (the president of the Boston chapter of the IS&T) arranged Lenna to appear at the IS&T Boston, as part of an overview of the history of digital imaging.
Here is a picture of Lenna taken in May 1997 at the IS&T's conference:
At the conference, she was busy signing autographs, posing for pictures, and giving a presentation about herself. Lenna commented to the Wired reporter: "They must be so tired of me ... looking at the same picture for all these years!"
Currently, Lenna lives near Stockholm and works for a government agency supervising handicapped employees archiving data using, appropriately, computers and scanners.
Where can I find the standard Lenna picture?
The standard version of Lenna is also available on a lot of ftp sites, detail can be found in the comp.compression FAQ. In addition, you can also obtain the Lenna image from the Miscellaneous volume of the USC-SIPI image database, which costs $100 for distribution on 8mm or 4mm tape. The ordering details can be found in Signal and Image Processing Institute of the University of Southern California.
We may have a new standard Lenna image?
As mentioned by Seideman in Playboy Newsdesk, over the years some researchers have complained that they lacked vital information about the Lenna image, such as what type of scanner was originally used, what kind of camera and film. He says that he is working with Playboy's archivist to re-scan Lenna's image and compile all the missing information, including everything from the type of photo emulsion used to make the print to the technical specifications of the scanner. In this way, Seideman says, the image of this Playboy Playmate can remain the standard reference image for comparing compression technologies into the 21st century.
Where can I find compression research using Lenna?
If you are a student, you may be interested in doing image compression research after knowing the Lenna story. In the nineties, wavelet is one of the hottest topics in image compression research. A very good web page that listed the results of the most recent wavelet image coding techniques using Lenna as the test image is published in Image Communication Lab of UCLA. In the SPIHT (Set Partitioning in Hierarchical Trees) site, demonstration images and software are provided for the Said & Pearlman algorithm. This is one of the most impressive image compression algorithms in terms of performance/bit rate/complexity tradeoffs. A Lenna Results Page is also availalbe on the Internet, which consists of reconstructed images using adaptive wavelet coder and JPEG. To start your research, the wavelet image compression construction kit could help you a lot, which contains images, wavelet transform code, filter coefficients, and lots of other resources for wavelet compression. For more wavelet coding related sites, you can find on the Signal Processing and the Multimedia Information Infrastructure. Finally, we are sure that after the discovering of the complete Lenna story, we will enjoy our research more with the lovely Lenna picture.
First version: July 28, 1997
Second version: Nov. 4, 1999
Last update: Feb. 21, 2001
Discovering one Playmate's role in the history of the Internet
In the course of his work as a publicist for producers of imaging systems, Jeff Seideman frequently found himself face to face with the same woman everywhere he went.
"Over the years I would go into these engineering and research labs and see these images of this woman all over the place," Seideman recalls. "I would ask who she was and they would say, 'She's Lena.' And I would say, 'Who's Lena?' And they'd say, 'I don't know. Just Lena.'"
"Just Lena," Seideman soon found out, was Lena Sjööblom, Playboy's Miss November 1972. In the early Seventies, an unknown researcher at the University of Southern California working on compression technologies scanned in the image of Lena's centerfold. Since that time, images of the Playmate have been used as the industry standard for testing ways in which pictures can be manipulated and transmitted electronically. Over the past 25 years, no image has been more important in the history of imaging and electronic communications, and today the mysterious Lena is considered the First Lady of the Internet.
"The use of her photo is clearly one of the most important events in the history of electronic imaging," Seideman said. Image compression is what has made the World Wide Web the wildly popular communications medium it is today.
When it came time to plan for the 50th anniversary conference of the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T), Seideman, in his role as president of the Boston chapter of the IS&T, decided he wanted to commemorate the event by featuring highlights from the history of imaging technology. Nobody he talked to knew what had become of the First Lady of the Internet, so Seideman decided he would track down the elusive Lena.
"I emailed the Swedish members in our directory asking if they knew how to get in touch with her, and none did," Seideman said. "But then I got referred from one person to another and finally someone gave me her telephone number and address. I wrote her and asked if she would be willing to come to the conference, and she said yes."
Lena Soderberg, nee Sjööblom, now lives near Stockholm and works for a government agency supervising handicapped employees archiving data using, appropriately, computers and scanners. With the assistance of Playboy, Seideman arranged for Miss November 1972, The First Lady of the Internet, to appear at the IS&T Boston conference on May 20 and 21.
Seideman adds that over the years some researchers have complained that they lacked vital information about the Lena image, such as what type of scanner was originally used, what kind of camera and film. He says that he is working with Playboy's archivist to re-scan Lena's image and compile all the missing information, including everything from the type of photo emulsion used to make the print to the technical specifications of the scanner. In this way, Seideman says, the image of this Playboy Playmate can remain the standard reference image for comparing compression technologies into the 21st century.
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Yes, it's true! Lenna attended the 50th Anniversary IS&T conference in Boston held in May 1997.
According to all reports, the event went spectacularly. Everyone was excited to finally meet Lenna in person and get her autograph. And she got a chance to meet some of the many people who have been using her picture as the basis of their research.
Check out the coverage from Playboy, Wired, and more from Playboy.
Also, check out page 171 of the September 1997 issue of Playboy. (The one with Pam Anderson on the cover). It has a small news story with a picture of Lenna looking at the posters at the conference.
Here is a picture of Lenna Soderberg (Sjööblom) and Jeff Seideman taken in May 1997 at IS&T's 50th Anniversary conference: