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.