Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A New Age for Digital Photography

LightZone 1.2 is out!

This is what LightZone 1.0 should have looked like, but nevermind...

So, why do we need LightZone again? What is it? Why do you want something like that?

The thing is that I really don't like is, well, yes, Photoshop. Actually not Photoshop in itself but Photoshop as a tool for Digital Photography. And it is not just Photoshop really, but all the software that we generally use to edit Digital Photos.

What is wrong is that presently all software applications (except for, of course, LightZone :) treat an image as a bucket of numbers, three numbers for every pixel, which are only correlated to the image we see on the screen through a very obscure relationship.

Then what the user is asked for is to change the numbers in some other obscure ways, using Levels or Curves tools, and getting feedback from a Histogram.

Aside from the fact that many Photographers might not be too interested in the mathematical aspects of image processing, even for people well versed in Photoshop mechanics image editing seems to remain cumbersome and unpredictable. A fair amount of trial and error is always involved and every image seems to require a new effort.

My conjecture is that the difficulty lies in the distance between the object being manipulated and the resulting image on the screen. The distance is too large and the brain doesn't bridge the gap.

The photographer looses a very important tool: the capacity of pre-visualizing the changes to the image at every step. Maybe the photographer knows fairly well what he or she wants to get out of an image, but how do you get there from the initial image, what are the steps to follow? I think that Photoshop (and all other imaging software of the kind) makes the task of the photographer very difficult because it is very hard to predict what happens at every step of the corrections. It is a sequence of trial and errors that is usually frustrating and misleading.

What I think is needed is something that allows a more direct manipulation of the image, something analog to what the brain already uses to represent the image.

I think that to modify an image it takes another image.

Photography is some 150 years old now, people have been working with images in the darkroom for a long time and the tool that photographers seem to have universally choosen is some incarnation of the Zone System.

The Zone System, as popularized by Ansel Adams and others in the 40's, divides an image in various zones of different luminosity and provides methods for altering the relationship between them.

Zones can be translated up and down on the brightness scale and ranges of zones can be compressed or expanded.

The Zone System provides to the photographer a great degree of precision, allowing to exactly calculate how the different elements of the image have to be transformed, allowing for great predictability in the results obtained in the darkroom.

Many think that predictability as the reason why photographers use the Zone System. I don't agree.

I believe that the Zone System is actually a way of thinking about images, a framework where the relationship between the graphical elements of an image can be analyzed and thought about even before thinking about what to change.

The reason why this framework is successful is that it can be interiorized by the photographer and it allows the mind to play what if scenarios with the image, the changes can be pre-visualized before being performed.

Good photographers can do the visualization work at the moment they capture the image itself, they choose the exposure, make trade tradeoffs with what the camera and the film can capture in view of what they want to obtain out of the picture they're exposing. Many people do this consciously, others in a more instinctive fashion, but all good photographers do it.

With LightZone I wanted to build a software implementation of the Zone System, a tool that would allow a direct manipulation of an image in terms of zones and light values and thus re-enable the visualization capacity of the human eye and brain.

If you made it this far and you are still interested, then please go download LightZone at http://www.lightcrafts.com and tell me what you think of it.

16 Comments:

At 9:54 PM, Blogger iNeil said...

Lightzone is potentially great software, but as a charter buyer/member is would be nice not to have to surf the web to learn about software updates. Simple and straightforward, it would be nice to be able to scan directly into lightzone.
iNeil

 
At 12:14 AM, Blogger fricc said...

Good news: LightZone 1.2 automatically checks for updates :)

- Fabio

 
At 7:54 AM, Blogger digitalforever said...

Downloaded (two times) and installed LZ/Mac. Crashed on launch. Customer support replies were near instant, including a phone call, promising a new link, follow-up, etc. Followed by ... nothing.
Have read generally mixed reviews on utility/useablity and consensus on price (too high).
Zero (non-functioning product) plus zero (no customer support) equals a big ZERO.
Me thinks LightCrafts won't make it past a year.

 
At 8:58 AM, Blogger ilachina said...

A wonderful concept, long, long overdue! I have downloaded the windows version trial (though it seems to prevent multiple uses: pops up licdense expired after first use)...but from what I've been able to play with on my first session, a serious tool, well thought out. I'm very much looking forward to seeing its future refinements; indeed, I'd be interested in becoming a beta-tester if possible: I am a semi-pro photographer, with a recent "Spotlight" portfolio featured in the Feb issue (#41) of B&W magazine, pages 98-101.

Kudos on a great product!

 
At 11:39 AM, Blogger c1asia said...

license expires after first use. needs some serious fixing.

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger fricc said...

Quality control is a big challange for a tiny company with an ambitious product, please be kind with our mistakes.

We'll be fixing the broken license thing asap. Thanks for your patience.

- Fabio

 
At 12:59 PM, Blogger fricc said...

For those that are having problems with the trial license, here is a build that will last another 45 days.

http://homepage.mac.com/fabio.riccardi/LightZone-1.2-TB.dmg

- Fabio

 
At 8:34 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

As a public beta-tester from the early days, I have anticipated each new version with great expectation. I have not been disappointed! The new tools in the latest beta are outstanding.

The commercial release (1.2) is now a part of my daily workflow. As a graphic designer and photographer I can appreciate the need for Photoshop as a tool in a production environment. Nevertheless, after mastering most of the features of Lightzone, I do not depend on Photoshop for image editing as much as I used to.

Like any version 1xx product, a willingness to learn the strengths and limitations of the software is a good start. Remember, Apple and Microsoft were little start-up companies at one time too :-)

Cheers,

Bruce

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger Ruben Osuna said...

It is a very interesting software.
I am worry about the quality of the RAW conversions.
Can LightZone use the Mac OS X RAW converter? (the same converter used by iPhoto, Preview or Aperture).
I don't like to use a lot of applications: Capture One, LightZone, Photoshop...

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger one-eyed-jack said...

I printed my first photos last nite from LZ. Very good results. I think CS2 and the beta of Lightroom will be used very little now. I have not decided if I still need ImagePrint. Has anyone experienced printing results? Can we print more than 72dpi? I thank all the engineers that worked on LZ..great job.

 
At 7:36 PM, Blogger one-eyed-jack said...

Has anyone had experience printing from LZ? I usually use ImagePrint. I printed some test pieces last nite and had good results..can we print higher than 72 dpi? BTW I think the application is fantastic.It is a great time saver and very intuitive.

 
At 8:50 PM, Blogger fricc said...

Hi One Eyed,

LightZone actually prints at resolutions up to 300 DPI.

The 72 DPI is a bug in the print panel feedback. Try to print and you will see that the quality is excellent. For best results, please read the instructions in the Help system.

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger fricc said...

Hi Ruben,

if you want to use an external RAW converter then LightZone-RT is the product for you. Please tale a look at:

http://www.lightcrafts.com/products/lightzone-rt/

and download our beta release from:

http://www.lightcrafts.com/products/lightzone-rt/download/

 
At 12:10 PM, Blogger Tianda2004 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger Tianda2004 said...

I like this sotware but I am a user of Kodak DCS/C.
When can it support this camera?

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger Niya said...

An awesome concept. Digital photography is a wide area. Nice article about " a new age for digital photography". Keep blogging. Thanks.

 

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