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› Innovations in Photography continue in Boston
  • Published on August 21, 2015

Just across the Charles River from Boston is the birthplace of modern instant photography, and recent inventions from MIT researchers are advancing digital photography in ways that will reduce the need for Photoshop work to correct under-exposed and over-exposed images.

A team of researchers at the MIT media lab in Cambridge, just across the river from Boston, have been developing the next generation of digital photography hardware and software to create images that will look better right off the camera, with minimal need for retouching.

Early examples of concepts from the team include the ability to accurately capture an image of the sky, a white building, and a shiny vehicle. Rather than these images being washed-out, a combination of new sensors and algorithms will accurately capture these difficult to photograph scenes.

An example provided by MIT shows an image of the ruins from an old church. In the image, capturing dark shadows of the stone along the blinding white of the sky is next to impossible with a conventional camera. The sky is blown out and white with no detail and the dark shadows of the brick also lack detail. While an exceptional Photoshop artist could isolate each of these areas and use level and curves to recover some of the image, it is unlikely to ever fully reflect an accurate representation of the original.

The new approach is able to capture the sky, clouds, and dark shadows, then decode this to retain the original depth of both light and dark areas. While HDR, or high dynamic range, can be used currently to combine multiple images taken over several exposures, the new approach will use a single exposure combined with new software. Because it is a single exposure, there is no need to bring images into Photoshop to merge them, or worry about changes that occurred between the different images that are needed to be combined together in HDR.

The new hardware will use digital sensors that effectively capture an unlimited amount of data, so they are never saturated. Once a sensor reaches a point of saturation, it resets and continues to collect new data until the lens closes. Current sensors simply reach a point of saturation, and record bright areas as white. The camera they are developing is called a “modulo” camera, in reference to modular principles, such as a sign wave.

This technology doesn’t exist in current cameras, and the team at MIT needed to create a prototype camera in their lab to capture images, along with developing the software as well. This puts the technology years away from showing up in a smartphone or DSLR camera.  But as cameras and sensors appear in more devices, including automated, self-driving cars, the implications for this technology extend far beyond a traditional camera. For the time being, you may still need to learn Photoshop to create traditional HDR images or retouch under exposed and over exposed photos.

The idea behind the camera was described publically in a presentation by the MIT researchers at the International Conference on Computational Photography. A few miles down the road from where Edwin Land developed the first Polaroid cameras, and separated by a few decades, Boston continues to be a home for photographic innovation.

 

About the author

 is a user experience designer, Photoshop expert, educator and author based in Boston. She is the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices.

Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern Windows UX Design, having worked closely with the Windows team to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally on behalf of Microsoft. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Blend for Visual Studio, and Balsamiq.