The Thing about Intuition
Intuition seems to be a very important ingredient for any creative process. It is our "natural way" of thinking before it gets systematized into a method where freedom is necessairly reduced.
With LightZone we are trying to build a photographic tool where a certain amount of intuitiveness can be regained in digital image manipulation.
We try to achieve this in two ways:
1) by providing a consistent image manipulation framework in which the photographer is not surprised by the results he may get.
2) by providing tools for image manipulation that are closer to the way human beings seem to perceive and analyze visual information.
By intuitiveness I mean that subtle quality of learning that people seem to have that allows one to forget about the tools he's using and concentrate on the result itself. Our dream is to create a tool for image manipulation that might become "invisible" and allow photographers to manipulate images "directly".
Solid grounding in color science and digital image processing strives to provide consistency of experience.
The brain seems to be able to learn complex patterns out of repeated exposures to consistent stimulation. If a computer program fails to deliver consistent experience than the learning process of "pattern discovery" is hampered and the intuition is never developed.
The other element for developing intuition is the use of appropriate tools, i.e. tools that feel natural for the task to be solved.
We decided to use the Zone System for image analysis and manipulation because most photographers seem to have chosen it historically between other methods and because, aside from being a methodology for obtaining consistent results in the darkroom, it seems to be a powerful framework for thinking about images.
All the discussions about image composition I've found in my career of amateur photographer consist in the breaking down of the image in separate visual elements and the discovery of patterns and juxtapositions between them. It doesn't seem to matter that a certain pattern, or a composition rule, is used rather the mere act of noticing the existence of patterns seems to allow people to eventually create "interesting" images.
The Zone System is formidable framework for image analysis and a place where planning can be performed about how we want to get the image we're "visualizing" out of what the camera is capturing. A certain amount of planning is necessary to decide to place some elements of the image in a specific zone to obtain specific results. Many people do this unconsciously, or "intuitively", some others do it more deliberately. What seems to be required is a place where "visual thinking" can be performed.
The Zone Finder is a very powerful tool for analyzing images, it is based on a segmentation algorithm used in AI for image recognition which manages to decompose an image into "meaningful visual elements", removing irrelevant visual detail (textures) and keeping what matters (shapes).
The Zone Mapper is an intuitive way to present a contrast transformation. With the Zone Mapper the user can apply a transformation to the lightness channel of an image with varying slope, thereby changing contrast in specific portions of the image's contrast range. This seems to be what all photography is about, extracting (or hiding) specific details in an image by means of altering the contrast between the different elements of the image.
Our Region Masks try to gain intuitiveness in the process of local contrast adjustment of an image. They are modeled after the cardboard cutouts that photographers routinely use in the darkroom for burning and dodging, where feathering is performed by moving the mask in front of the enlarger to project a soft shadow on the image.