Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Could Blurry Photos Be History?

I love photography, history, and technology.  And while some might find that technology incongruous with my other interests, I believe that advancing technology often helps the historian better understand the past.  Think for a moment about what satellite or multispectral imaging has done for archaeology.

There are two new technologies currently being developed that should dynamically change the way people enhance photos and in my mind have plenty of applications for historic photos.  The first technology which has more modern application can be found in Lytro cameras (not yet available) under development.  A company called Lytro has announced that they have developed a technology they call "light field" where the camera will not just capture the light and focal information for a specific point, but all the points within view of the camera lens.  What this means is that after a shot is taken, you'll have the ability to change the focal point of the shot after it's taken.  The camera will store all possible shots you can take and then allow you to tell it what part of the picture you want to be in focus.

(A single shot with Lytro technology focused on the foreground or background)

If you'd like to see a simulation of Lytro light field technology, see HERE.

And while this all sounds wonderful for the future, what about those photos in the closet that are already wrongly focused?  Well, the latest thing to hit the digital photography world has been the rapid development of improved de-bluring algorithms for digital enhancement.  That's why I was very excited to see a YouTube clip from the Adobe MAX conference last week, where a new unblur Photoshop tool in development was previewed.  People already use Photoshop for photo retouching and enhancement, but I can see that slightly blurry historic photos might greatly benefit from this technology.  For example, Virgil asked last week what the blurry words above the mantle in the Goodner family photo read.  Maybe with this technology, I could know.

Check out the video below.  The resolution is not great, but it does give you a good idea of what's coming:


Virgil S. said...

Thanks once again for a nifty post! Lyto technology smacks of holography, though how can they get phase info out of ambient light??
The deblurring demo is also very cool. And re history, I can't help myself, I must ask have you heard about Belly Hill? Two URLS:

mary said...

I think this is marvelous technology. I saw the article when Lytro was announced. There are so many pics I have that I would like to correct. On the other hand, I see this technology as a big step toward the elimination of the photographer altogether. You will be able to just set up a camera anywhere and produce a good photo after the fact. Everything will be determined in the new "darkroom" and not the clever eye of the photographer.

Nate Maas said...

Virgil, Ren Ng, the founder of Lytro did his PhD at Stanford on the light field technology that is supposedly being used in his cameras. You can read his dissertation here:

Regarding Göbekli Tepe, I've been following this as I can since it was first announced. Although it seems it was rather sensationalized particularly considering that it is still just beginning to be excavated. I think some of their assumptions are probably off and will be changing as more is uncovered. In particular, I think their dating assumptions may need some reworking. And just south of Göbekli Tepe is the site of the biblical settlement of Haran, so it holds a particular interest for me that way too.

Mary, I think we're already to the point where the actual photographer is becoming less important than they once were. There is still some skill, but the technological tools are making that skill less important. Right now, as long as you have good equipment and take enough shots, the post-production software allows a skilled person to take those right images and make them spectacular.

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