Apr 9, 2007

The next steps in photography could blur reality

a8307_1584.jpgSource: Science News
Written by Patrick L. Barry

On the Cover: In one new aspect of computational photography, a dome contains hundreds of precisely positioned flash units. A high-speed camera captures a frame as each flash fires in sequence. Computers can then relight the scene as they reconstruct it.
Debevec/University of Southern California

When a celebrity appears in a fan-magazine photo, there’s no telling whether the person ever wore the clothes depicted or visited that locale. The picture may have been “photoshopped,” we say, using a word coined from the name of the popular image-editing software, Adobe Photoshop.

But today’s image processing is just a prelude.

Imagine photographs in which the lighting in the room, the position of the camera, the point of focus, and even the expressions on people’s faces were all chosen after the picture was taken. The moment that the picture beautifully captures never actually happened. Welcome to the world of computational photography, arguably the biggest step in photography since the move away from film.

Digital photography replaced the film in traditional cameras with a tiny wafer of silicon. While that switch swapped the darkroom for far more-powerful image-enhancement software, the camera itself changed little. Its aperture, shutter, flash, and other components remained essentially the same.

Computational photography, however, transforms the act of capturing the image. Some researchers use curved mirrors to distort their camera’s field of view. Others replace the camera lens with an array of thousands of microlenses or with a virtual lens that exists only in software. Some use what they call smart flashes to illuminate a scene with complex patterns of light, or set up domes containing hundreds of flashes to light a subject from many angles. The list goes on: three-dimensional apertures, multiple exposures, cameras stacked in arrays, and more.

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