Have Some Audacity: Databend Your Images

We are so spoiled these days with all the nifty image filter effects that we can apply in-camera, in post-processing, as well as in social sites like Instagram. But, just as photography has its Lomography, what if you could also do your very own experimental image filter effects?

Enter Audacity®, a free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds. Yes, sounds! But it turns out you can also input your image files into Audacity and use its sound filters to make it do some cool image filter effect tricks on image files.

Here is my BEFORE image (click to download source image):

I applied the Echo sound effect to the source and presto you can see the AFTER image below:

Here is another source image databended with the Reverb sound effect:

Here is the Fade In sound effect, which is a bit less destructive:

And here’s the Wahwah sound effect, which is quite destructive (this is supposed to be a yellow flower):

Look suspiciously like image filter effects, don’t they?

Interested? Want to try it out yourself? There’s a great tutorial from Antonio Roberts.

Here is one from his collection (much cooler than mine):

© Antonio Roberts/hellocatfood

© Antonio Roberts/hellocatfood

There are lots more great examples on his site, so go and take a look.

I was first drawn to databending from an article on Jamie Boulton‘s site, which linked to the tutorial above.

Here’s an example from Jamie Boulton (there’s a cat somewhere in there):

© Jamie Boulton (QuestionSomething)

He has examples of each sound effect, so definitely please go take a look.

Here’s how I got databending to work using Audacity 2.0.5 and Photoshop Elements 12 on a Mac OS X 10.9.4:

[Adapted from Antonio Roberts‘ tutorial.]

1. Save File as TIFF

In Photoshop Elements, open your file, resize as desired and save it back as TIFF format, Pixel Order = Per Channel:

2. Import in Audacity as Raw Data

In Audacity (of course, once you have downloaded and installed it), do File – Import the TIFF file as Raw Data, Encoding = U-Law. [If you do not see File – Import, then do File – New first, then File – Import – Raw Data…]

3. Select a Time Slice

Once the file has been imported, click the time where you want to start (skip the Header which is about 5 seconds), type the end time, and press CTRL-B (CMD-B in OS X). You can then drag the circles to fine tune your selection.

4. Apply a Sound Effect to Databend Your Image

Now, do Effect and select a sound effect to apply:

Here, I select the Reverb effect and just click OK to accept the default settings:

In all, I counted 26 sound effects you can play with, though I was not able to create/open some of them in Photoshop Elements. You may find that some images do not databend well while others do not even create a viewable image, so some experimentation is required.

5. Export the Databended Image

Now, do File – Export:

Give it a new name and select where you want to save it (here, I called it “databending-reverb”; you can add a .jpg extension here or rename it later):

Before you click Save, select Format = Other uncompressed files, then click Options, set Encoding = U-Law, click OK:

That will take you back to the previous screen and you can now click Save. Ignore any warning screen.

On the Edit Metadata screen, just click OK:

The file will be saved with a .raw extension (unless you already entered the .jpg extension earlier when it asked for a file name). I rename the extension to .jpg.

6. In Photoshop Elements, Open in Camera Raw

In Photoshop Elements, do File – Open in Camera Raw:

Select your file, make any adjustments you want and click Open Image:

Note: sometimes there is an image file that gets databended and previews fine, but I cannot open it in PSE. What I do is open it up in Preview, then export it as a jpeg again under a different name.

Now you have the file opened in PSE and you can do any other image manipulation you desire, resize and save.

That’s it!

You can be as creative as you want and even mix different images together for some real cool effects!


  • hi,
    great tutorial, thanks!
    all worked well except my files open as grayscale. i am on ps cs6. if i save as jpg or bpm it cannot parse & open the files. it opens raw, but i get these boring greyscale images 🙁
    any ideas would be welcome.

  • Hi Neki,

    Thanks. I had to do a lot of experimenting before I got it to work. Sometimes, my source file was not conducive to data bending, so I tried a couple of different source images. As you can see, the steps I listed in the article are a bit different from those of the original authors, but they worked for me, so try to follow it to the letter, i.e. use TIFF, import as RAW, etc. If not, experiment, find what works for you. Sorry for not being more helpful.

  • hi,
    thanks for your reply.seems i’ll be glued to the computer for a long time 🙁

  • hi,
    me again reporting how i got colors.
    image opens as greyscale
    go to image>mode> indexed color. goto color table from dropdown menu choose either spectrum or system windows.each gives a different result, but in living color!FINALLY! less painful than what i expected.
    thanks again for your tutorial.