Thursday, September 15, 2005

Displaying photographs with lighting contrasts

You can find musings about how to use dynamic lighting in photographs.

I've taken pictures of a beautiful scene only to discover later that a great part of its beauty lay in the contrasts not of color but of light. The human eye is amazingly dynamic, able to flick from one part of the view to another with 10 times the light in a fraction of a second. Unfortunately the developed picture can only use reflected light, and you do not get the same dynamic range of intensities that we see every day. But suppose a picture were displayed not by reflected but by transmitted light. Imagine a picture (a slide) illuminated from behind by light that is not uniform. It would not be terribly hard to hand make masks for a particular slide using filters and a very bright light source. It seems quite hard to do this automatically. Even digital images, which use the CRT to generate different light intensities, have a certain flatness. Can we make a CRT (or LED-based system) with a greater range of brilliancy, and will the intrinsic coarseness of resolution for the light source interfere with the fine resolution of the picture itself?

It turns out there's been some interesting work that might easily have a bearing on this. In the September 2005 NASA Tech Briefs on page 70 is a report about work done by Kevin Yu on "Sol-Gel Glass Holographic Light-Shaping Diffusers." The idea is to use holographic light diffusers to spread the light around in a light table to be where you want it to be, and Yu's teams' contribution is to include sol-gel optical glass.

OK, cool. The missing link between their work and my ideas is how to make a holographic plate given some kind of pixelated light meter. I think that's just a matter of some calculations to generate the holographic mapping. I dunno if sol-gel is substantially better than other material for the somewhat less severe requirements of a photo display box (they write of being able to withstand temperatures of 1000 degrees C).