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Apple Patents Directional Flash Tech For Cameras

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the hey-you-in-the-corner dept.

Input Devices 145

tekgoblin writes "A patent application has surfaced that shows Apple's attempts at creating a new way for a flash to work on a camera. The way the new flash works is very intriguing: a user can select a dimly lit area of the photo and the camera will try to illuminate just that area with the flash. The way Apple is attempting to accomplish this is similar to the way the autofocus works on the iPhone 4 where you can touch the screen in certain areas to focus on that area. Instead you will be able to light up that area with the flash. This is accomplished by the camera flash passing through a 'redirector' so the flash can be placed other than directly centered when a photo is taken."

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OMFG APPLE!! YEAH!!! GO FUCKING APPLE!!! YEAH!!!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709072)

this is so fucking amazing, I just can't fucking believe it. Apple is going to change the fucking universe with their fucking camera flash. I'm so fucking enthralled that slashdot has brought this, of all patents and technological developments, to my fucking attention. How much fucking stock do you own? You must have just fucking bought it and worried about those P/E ratios getting fucking out of hand. How fucking high can this go? I'm so glad to contribute to this fucking worthless fucking selective PR fucking shit-ass site. And of course everyone will read this fucking article in the morning because it will be new and you'll hardly post fucking shit after it so all your fucking /. controlled sheep-fuckers can get their jollies on and think they're fucking learning something and getting enlightened with your fucking PR drivel bullshit. What the fuck, asshole, you think you rule the fucking world with your geekdom fucking site? You fucking control our fucking minds? We can't fucking things for ourselves and see past your fucking ignoramus ass-kissing? We guess fucking what? You aren't going to get onto fucking Late Night, so fucking get over it. You aren't going to change our fucking minds that Apple makes shit products that no self-respecting individual would ever own. We're not the fucking brainwashed morons you take us for, you fucking inner party dolt.

Wait a second (4, Funny)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709086)

This doesn't make any sense. I'm *sure* I heard Jobs say that he was against this type of technology.

not to mention prior art (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709098)

ya know adobe photoshop 4 -5
you can highlight an area, a whole picture and "adjust brightness"

give me a break this patent crap in the usa is just getting downright retarded

Re:not to mention prior art (4, Insightful)

LBt1st (709520) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709148)

Photoshop filters are no replacement for actual light.

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709166)

Photoshop filters are no replacement for actual light.

...Yet.

Eventually, a raw 3D picture with color data can be rendered into any picture you may want.

We will be able to take a picture in awful conditions and then recreate a "fake" picture with the 3D model, the true colors and any lighting we want.

I predict this will exist in under ten years.

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709256)

Actually there exists technology today to gather real time 3d information with lasers. Google ASC 3D.

Re:not to mention prior art (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33710002)

Actually there exists technology today to gather real time 3d information with lasers.

Let me see if I have this right - you're suggesting using lasers instead of light?

Re:not to mention prior art (4, Informative)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709258)

Eventually, a raw 3D picture with color data can be rendered into any picture you may want.

With no light, there is no colour data.

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709276)

With no light, there is no colour data.

You need much less light to know the color of a surface than to make a decent picture.

A badly directed light that gives you an awful picture, does give you color data. Take that data, apply on 3d model, create light sources, render picture.

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709288)

You need much less light to know the color of a surface than to make a decent picture.

Not true – taking a picture is by definition determining the colour of the surface –if you can get the colour of the surface exactly, you can get the picture.

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709402)

Not true - taking a picture is by definition determining the colour of the surface -if you can get the colour of the surface exactly, you can get the picture.

That's only partially true. In a photo the received surface's color comes from the position and angle of that surface relative to the camera and the lights. If you know the 3D map of the object you can reverse that composition and gather the original information. That original information is what I called the "color data".

For example, with a picture of a sphere and a 3D map you can determine the real color of the sphere (not the color of the light it's currently reflecting towards your objective) and use that information to render a new sphere with a different source of lighting.

Not only source but also intensity, color, etc. Essentially that lets you render the picture you want over your 3D colored canvas.

Re:not to mention prior art (3, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709476)

That's only partially true. In a photo the received surface's color comes from the position and angle of that surface relative to the camera and the lights. If you know the 3D map of the object you can reverse that composition and gather the original information. That original information is what I called the "color data".

Yes, and said colour data cannot be gathered in any way other than collecting light bounced off the surfaces... No light, no colour, it's as simple as that.

Re:not to mention prior art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709686)

wow that's quite a beat down you took there thanshin - and a rather public one at that.

i think the the lesson is, if you use an apple iphone you probably aren't the sort of person who should make technological predictions and statements on websites that are aimed at geeks and nerds.

Re:not to mention prior art (4, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709700)

Aside: The person who did the beating down uses an iPhone.

Lesson: don't be a twat and call people unintelligent because of the technology they chose to use, many made an informed choice and just had different requirements to you.

Re:not to mention prior art (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709762)

Ah. No. You kids with your color photography and your use of digital.

I suggest you have a better understanding of how a CCD or CMOS works (and maybe the chemical make of a negative) before you say that "determining the colour of the surface" is taking a picture because for years, there was, you know, no color photography and by it's very nature, that is not the definition of photography.

You're making a fool of yourself son and showing how very little you know about both digital and traditional photography.

Re:not to mention prior art (4, Insightful)

arivanov (12034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709574)

Try to take a picture of a male common damselfly or even a dragonfly in different light conditions. Light is not just reflection, it is also refraction (especially on the more "interesting" photographs). That cannot be modelled realistically based on color data from light falling from the wrong direction. You need knowledge of the actual material to model that and even then it is least likely to be realistic.

There are many examples - the colour of the wings is different depending on the angle at which the light falls on it; same for any other insect; same for rocks, crystals, birds (try taking pictures of a common kingfisher or a sunbird from different angles); open water; in fact nearly anything worth taking a picture I can think of. Even human face if done properly. Try taking a portrait in a standard "halo" shot (works best on pretty blonds :-). Try that with flash and/or additional supporting lights and try taking a "plain" shot and try to get the same effect with photoshop afterwards. You will see what I mean - if you do not have the lighting from the right angle in the first place there is no way you can simulate that "gold shimmer" look from a l'Oreal commercial after that.

In photography light is everything. It is what makes the 10000$ difference between a work of art and POS produced by a point-n-shoot. If the light was not there in the first place and _at_ the right angle the necessary colour data will not be there to record.

I agree. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709846)

Years ago we had industrial photographers come in and take a picture of the equipment
we were building. Lots of curved stainless steel. They brought in a lot of lights, set
them up high and low all over the place, and our boring-looking equipment started
to look Really Good. Pictures came out great.

Re:I agree. (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710268)

Photography of highly reflective surfaces is one of those situations that really sets the pros apart from the wannabes. (In terms of lighting skill, I'm far closer to the wannabes...)

strobist.blogspot.com is a great reference for photographic lighting techniques, as is the book "Light: Science and Magic".

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710864)

Or as was scrawled on the wall of a painting studio I took a class in once, "Even shit can be beautiful if the light hits it right."

Re:not to mention prior art (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709714)

>>>>>Photoshop filters are no replacement for actual light.
>>
>>Eventually, a raw 3D picture with color data can be rendered into any picture you may want.

Eh... maybe in the era of Star Trek (2100s) but for now it's not possible. Even digital zoom doesn't work properly, just blowing-up the existing image rather than interpolating missing data. I agree with the Grandparent Poster that actual light is preferable, just as real actual zoom (using a lens) is better.

Still it's pretty impressive how far Digital cameras have come since 2000 (when they were basically junk).
Looks like it's time to get rid of my old S-VHS and 35mm analog units.

Sounds impossible (4, Informative)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709094)

How does this redirector work? the problem with flashes on camera is that they are coming from the point of view of the photo. This creates rather unflattering light.

You can redirect a flash by aiming it, but its still coming from the same point in space as the camera. This isnt ideal or good either.

The best way is to get that flash off the camera... but if you cant, as would be the case with an iphone... it is best to bounce it by redirecting the flash onto a wall to the left, right if you can, or ceiling. Generally up and to the rigth and left work well, as it forces light to bounce off the wall, which in effect makes the wall a large light source.

The problem with the flash being on the phone is that it is still a small light source. Small light sources cast hard shadows. This redirector wont change that, unless it can bounce light off a surface such as a wall. Which i dont see it doing as it has limited mobility being stuck in the back of the iphone. Generally with higher end camera flashes, you can rotate them in 360 degrees left to right and have a large up and down range of movement so you can point it right at the ceiling. you cant do that with an iphone.

We'll see.

Sounds like a cute gimmick for camera novices, but not a new solution to anything other than perhaps interface. Light is light.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

picoboy (1868294) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709128)

> Sounds impossible

Why wouldn't it be as simple as an LCD array mounted a very short distance in front of the flash source?

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709194)

sounds fragile.

You mean a small LCD array that pops out and away from the back of the phone and angles? Its possible sure... but still limited in mobility and it would be the first thing to break on the iphone

Re:Sounds impossible (2, Interesting)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709388)

I think he means a small LCD a millimeter or so in front of the flash, ie. completely inside the iPhone, no moving parts needed.

I wonder if he's patented the opposite - select parts of the image where you don't want flash, or want less flash - eg. macro photography. The LCD could have a 16-level greyscale for fine control, I wonder if he's patented that as well. Gee, this thinking-up-patentable-ideas thing is really easy.

Re:Sounds impossible (2, Informative)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709976)

Considering the amount of heat given off by a flash [1], I wonder if that's feasible. Also, can an LCD be made dark enough for this?

1: I've tried using my hand to partially cover the flash for close photography. Even a single flash is painfully hot.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710248)

Phones only have LED flash. Those produce much less heat.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710806)

It’s basically a low-resolution B&W (or perhaps grayscale) LCD projector. Hardly revolutionary.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709300)

Or just a bunch of LED flash generators pointing in slightly different directions.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

yakovlev (210738) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709682)

This seems to be the design pictured (at least in the second photo) but I'm not sure I buy it. Assuming they could all focus based on the lens settings, this would still only mean, say, 16 independently controllable areas and a standard all-over fill. That's going to look like crap unless your subject happens to completely fill one of those 16 areas.

I'm guessing this only starts to get interesting in the 256-area range. However, I'm not sure that can be done cost-effectively.

If they've come up with a way to have a dynamically controlled gobo/lens that redirects a single flash but still fits within a compact camera, that's pretty darn impressive, but doesn't seem to be disclosed in this patent. Without it, this is a bit like "Method for generating infinite power: Start with a perpetual motion machine..."

Seriously, the interesting part of this idea isn't in the user interface, it's in how you build that redirector.

Re:Sounds impossible (2, Informative)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709760)

>>>The best way is to get that flash off the camera

You're right. I rarely use the flash on my camera, because I prefer to turn-on all the lights in a room and get things as bright as possible. It makes a better picture and a more realistic effect, versus the "bright face" appearance of flash lighting.

Re:Sounds impossible (3, Interesting)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709150)

That problem will be solved shortly. We just need a bit more computational power on the cameras and a separable flash.

You point the camera to your target. The camerta creates a 3D map of the room, calculates the perfect surface for reflection and, in the screen, it points that angle to you.

You separate the flash (camera in one hand, flash in the other) point it as the camera showed you, and make the picture.

The camera will have a secondary flash to remove shadows.

All the technology exists at this moment but I don't think a camera sized computer can do 3D maps at a reasonable speed.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709184)

That would be a hell of a powerful camera. The tech exists... I've seen large scale scanning solutions that are amazing but... i doubt apple will ever bundle that into a tiny phone...

The problem is the scan data is often extremely high resolution point data... that has to be triangulated into surfaces and then light would have to be calculated off that etc. The power to do that in real time, makes it unrealistic on a tiny phone at any reasonable cost for mass markets. I think it would be wiser to just learn how to light things :) Its not that hard once you understand how light works. Computers generally suck at automatic exposures anyway.

Re:Sounds impossible (4, Informative)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709270)

You're right....not phone size yet.
http://www.advancedscientificconcepts.com/ [advancedsc...ncepts.com]

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709342)

The lidar stuff is amazing.. It picks up positional and color data in point clouds if i'm not mistaken... I've seen some amazing things used for special fx shots etc... large scans of out door buildings from helicopters etc... amazing stuff.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

WarJolt (990309) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709378)

http://www.advancedscientificconcepts.com/images/GUI.jpg [advancedsc...ncepts.com]
An image sensor picks up color data. LIDAR picks up luminosity and distance.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710890)

Are there combination cameras then? I've only seen the data, not the cameras... Basically the point clouds had vertex colors assigned to them which when assembled they are in a sense pixel data.. cause the resolution is so high.

Re:Sounds impossible (2, Interesting)

niftydude (1745144) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709636)

You won't need a separable flash. I'm willing to bet any money that they'll be using arrays of movable micro-electromechanical (MEMS) mirrors and micro-lenses in the in the camera to aim the flash automatically for you.
MEMS mirrors are tiny, cheap to make now that we know how to make them, and are easily able to do this kind of application.

I'm also not sure if a camera sized computer can do 3D maps at a reasonable speed yet - but a hardware chip which has instructions purely to implement that sort of algorithm definitely could fit on a camera or phone, and again would be tiny and cheap to add in once you were mass producing it.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710064)

I doubt that very much. The reason for the off camera flash is one of geometry. The closer the flash is to the lens the more likely it is that you get red eyes. Additionally, the closer the lens is to the flash the more directly the light bounces and the less control you have over the shadows.

So, unless Apple is planning to start a new trend of huge cameras, it's unlikely that this technology will really make much of a difference. As the angles and distances involved are just not enough to make much of an impact. Beyond that, the extra circuitry will add heat and probably detract somewhat from the image quality available.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710308)

The computing power exists and is proven to work. The computer is known as "human brain".

Someone who understands photographic light (read Strobist's Lighting 101 as a good way to start understanding it) and doing stuff like what you described above becomes second nature.

Note: Regardless of computing method, non-white ceilings/walls greatly decrease the solution space of the problem. :(

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710682)

I think we can all agree that there would be a certain utility to having a camera that can do the photographer's job, which is to say, calculating good angles and lighting. Further, I think most of us would agree that this will become feasible eventually. This frees up the photographer to be an artist, although it also sharply decreases the amount of available work by eliminating the easy stuff. That relegates the professional photographer to the trickiest stuff, but at least it's also most interesting. Also, there will probably always be a certain amount of work for the guy who spends the big bucks to purchase and maintain professional hardware.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709164)

I second your opinion.

The way this is presented, this only redirect light a few degrees, which isn't going to do much. Now if it could redirect 40-50 upwards to create a nice fill effect ... wait, it's still too small and weak. Yeah, just a gimmick, nothing worthwhile.

The way I see it, if you need a flash, you need a bigger camera too, because the puny front lens in the cellphone camera just won't cut it. Unless, of course, if you're aiming for crappy underexposed or motion blurred images, because one of them WILL happen most of the time...

Re:Sounds impossible (2, Funny)

dimeglio (456244) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709246)

Clearly you underestimate the power of Jobs at bending light and controlling photons. All you need is a singularity in the right place in order to direct the light where you want it to be.

Re:Sounds impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709360)

Well, that is ok as long as he doesn't underestimate the power of Jobs at bending truth and controlling fanboys.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709968)

There seem to be a lot of negative posts on this subject. Presumably this is due to the declining level of physics knowledge among the Slashdot audience. This is actually one of the simpler uses of the reality distortion field.

Re:Sounds impossible (3, Insightful)

chomsky68 (1719996) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709250)

It doesn't matter how and/or whether it works. The point of the whole excersize is that if anybody is going to figure out and implement it, the brave is going to have Apple's lawyers breathing down his neck for patent infringement.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709350)

That is very true.

And they shouldnt be allowed to do that. Bouncing and aiming light has been apart of artistic illumination before cameras ever existed.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

bronney (638318) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709312)

dude this patent isn't for the iphone 4.. they could build in a flash on the rim of the phone for bouncy in future phones. Conveniently solves the antenna problem too! lol?

You're thinking of the wrong problem (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709652)

Actually, that seems to me like the perfect way to aim the flash at just someone's eyes :p

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

KillaBeave (1037250) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709694)

It's probably like the current iPhone "flash" app that my mother-in-law downloaded that one about 6 months ago. I asked how do you download a flash!?! Then I thought about it for a second. All it does is increase the ISO ... A LOT. The result is a horrible grainy terrible photo, but it's brighter and you can see in the dark.

This is probably just processing the photo to brighten the areas you selected with your directional "flash". Actually it could up the ISO a bunch and then darken the areas you don't select. That sounds like a perfect recipe for garbage photos.

Nothing to see here ... I'm sure the target demographic will happily pay $10 to download this "flash" and take even crappier pictures.

Re:Sounds impossible (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710292)

This is only a marginal improvement (and may in many situations prove to be a non-improvement making those who understand photographic lighting even sicker).

The unfortunate fact is, we'll never see bounce flash coming from a cameraphone. There simply is not any way to get the energy/power requirements for bounce flash crammed into a cell phone. The patent above is, if anything, going in the exact opposite direction from bounce flash.

I'll need to rethink my lighting. (5, Informative)

Andy Smith (55346) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709100)

I'm a professional photographer and I've been using flash zoom, feathering etc for years to achieve this effect. Guess I won't be allowed to do that anymore without asking Apple for permission first?

http://www.meejahor.com/2008/06/06/feathering-two-lights-for-the-price-of-one/ [meejahor.com]
http://www.meejahor.com/2008/09/29/feathering-its-like-off-camera-lighting-but-faster/ [meejahor.com]

(Just kidding. I know it's a patent for a specific method, not the technique.)

Re:I'll need to rethink my lighting. (2, Insightful)

inpher (1788434) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709118)

The difference from what I can tell is that Apple is seeking a way to make all this work automatically in a pocket-sized system (as far as I know this is the first time this has been attempted). Don't worry, you can keep doing what you are doing, almost no amount of technology can compete with a good human who knows what he/she is doing.

Re:I'll need to rethink my lighting. (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710084)

Basically Apple is patenting the ability of the camera to do that for you, but less good and with significantly less control in a consumer device.

Re:I'll need to rethink my lighting. (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710332)

My guess is that Apple's algorithm is more likely to target fixate on the foreground subject, creating the exact opposite effect.

What's wrong with... (1)

Bjecas (1753752) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709108)

...manually aiming it? People have been doing it for decades with regular cameras...

Re:What's wrong with... (2, Insightful)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709130)

well its stuck on the back of the phone. You cant aim the flash without aiming the stupid iphone camera in the direction of the flash:)

Its not an SLR with a real flash... its a solid phone you hold in one direction with the lense and flash on the same plane no matter how you angle the damn thing.

Re:What's wrong with... (2, Interesting)

Bjecas (1753752) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709176)

The difference to a Canon EOS 50D being that the flash on the Canon is stuck to the top?

I'm not that well versed in photography as to understand how much of an impact this can have, hence my original post. ;)

Re:What's wrong with... (5, Informative)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709282)

Well it depends on which flash you're talking about.

If you're talking about the flash that comes built in on a Canon EOS Slr... The one that "pops up"... That is as worthless an Iphone flash, as it can not be aimed.

But if you're talking about a Canon 550EX Flash, which is an expensive professional grade small flash unit that mounts into the "Hot shoe" on top of the Canon EOS SLR... Those flashes can be rotated in just about every direction, including aiming it behind you... Those types of flashes are much more versatile than the "pop up" flash that comes built into the camera.

The reason is based on the physics of light.

If you've ever seen a studio photography setup, you will notice that none of the lights are attached to the camera. (Although sometimes there will be a ring flash attached to the camera.. this is a special effect I'll ignore to keep this simple)

I'm sure you've seen studio lights where theres a light thats aimed into an umbrella. This is a classic studio photography cliche that you probably have seen once in your life.

The reason you do that, is because the flash unit itself is a small light source. Small light sources cast hard shadows. If you look at most fashion photography, you will rarely if ever see a hard shadow, because hard shadows are unflattering. Hard shadows show all of the imperfections in a persons skin, and often occlude harshly areas of your subject.

So by aiming the flash into an umbrella... you are basically turning a small light source into a large light source. The reason this works is because light photons bounce from surface to surface and decrease at an exponential rate.

Firing a bright small flash into a large white surface, such as an umbrella... illuminates the umbrella and then that umbrealla becomes a source of light that casts SOFT shadows. Soft shadows, soften imperfections in skin, can fill and blend with existing light very well, and generally looks better.

So small light source = hard shadows and large light source = soft shadows. There are other fancier devices other than umbrellas. There are things called soft boxes, where instead of bouncing light off the umbrealla, you are actually shooting the light through a large transparent white surface that is encased to keep light from escaping in directions you do not want. So the lgiht only transmits out that transparent white surface... thus enlarging teh light and creating a more directional soft shadow effect. This is is the tool of choice of every studio photographer. Umbrellas work well, but soft boxes are better because they contain light and only emit it out the front. An umbrella will leak light all over your room, but it will soften the light.

ANYWAYS. I'm getting too much into this ;)

But basically an after market flash such as a Canon 550EX allows you to position the flash so that you can aim it at large surfaces around your subject, while still being attached to your camera. A pop up flash only fires in one direction... straight ahead.

An interesting thing to try if you do not own a real flash... is to simply take some kind of card, perferably white, or even better, take a piece of cardboard and wrap it in tin foil.... Now hold that card just under that pop up flash on the camera... and angle it so that it directs the light towards the ceiling. Now take a picture. You will be amazed at how more appealing it is, compared to just taking a photo with the pop up flash aimed directly at your subject. The reason is, by aiming the flash at the ceiling, you're using the ceiling as a light source, and not your flash. You've turned a small light source, into a large one, by bouncing that light off the ceiling which then bounces around the room... and eliminates the hard shadow of the pop up flash.

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709438)

So, would this effect be achieved by having a second flash mounted in the side of the phone? Xenon bulb; Very slim, little slide cover which opens when you select the camera function, well out of the way of the shutter / zoom buttons...

Just an idea.

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709452)

Well you could have one slide up from the top edge of the phone and them have it rotate freely. It would probably be very fragile and too weak to illuminate a room well enough to make a big difference. Its tricky because the iphone itself is such a power hungry device... too many flashes could seriously hurt your phone battery time.

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710034)

Indeed. Maybe then a curved edge to the phone casing with a small rotating shield inside. Shift the flash right up to the edge of the casing. Shield above the flash exposing the front when taking outside shots, shield in front of flash exposing top when indoors. Taking into account the fact that most people's ceilings are painted light shades...

No photographer, just trying to re-work Apple's idea. It'd probably be no use for twilight-lit rooms as camera flashes are quite underpowered. Oh well, It's a phone.

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710106)

Doesn't work with the form factor. The iPhone would have to grow gigantic in order for this sort of thing to work. Even a P&S with a hot shoe is typically too small for this to work properly. You really need several inches for it to work, and at that point you're in a situation where you've got a flash with an iPhone attached to it.

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

squizzar (1031726) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709542)

I've seen this done by a photographer in a night club - where I presume setting up remote flashes etc. is a bit inconvenient! He had a business card attached to the flash with an elastic band. I'm trying to remember how he had it oriented, I think it was with the flash pointing straight up, and the card taped behind, presumably to bounce some light from the card towards the subject and some off the ceiling?

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

seanipoo (51223) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709644)

This was likely done to place a nice highlight in the eyes of the people he was photographing (the card doesn't really reflect enough light to make much of a difference to the overall exposure of the scene). Some flashes (e.g. my Pentax AF360FGZ) have a little pull-out white plastic card for just this purpose.

Re:What's wrong with... (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709658)

Pretty much. Which ever way he was orienting it has to do with how the photographer decided to capture his exposure.

Some people think attaching various things to their flashes directly like that, make a difference. It only helps if you're angling light away from direct line of sight from the lens viewpoint. There are various plastic things sold on the market that dont do much, but claim to do amazing things. Generally it comes down to small light sources on the camera axis do not generate pleasing images unless they are rotated to bounce light off a larger surface area that then bounces light from an angle off camera axis. This makes the light come from the side for example... and it will be soft and pleasing rather than have that direct on camera flash look that looks like a deer caught in headlights.

Although technically headlights arent on camera axis. They are to the left and right.. and that even helps a bit to make something look good ;)

Typical flash photos taken by the average person who does not know lighting or much about cameras at all.... all have that head on flash look. You've seen it a million times. Its not appealing artistically, and the professionals avoid it at all costs.

There are some exceptions, for example... when you cant avoid it. Where getting the shot is more important than how artistically pleasing it is. This is why cameras come with flashes built in... because its VERY hard for a camera to expose an image in natural light without blurring and smearing due to low shutter speeds required to capture natural light in most indoor settings. A flash on the camera is the only way to capture an acceptable indoor shot for the average person because most people do not understand how a camera works. Indoor photos without a flash is generally very hard to do and require very expensive fast lenses, high isos, low shutter speeds and stabilization.

Its challenging enough for pros... so thats why most cameras come with those little flashes. The average person would be very disappointed with their cameras if they didnt have those flashes because indoor exposures are not really possible in poor lighting. Pros can do it but it there are trade offs. Its always best to work with additional lighting.

Re:What's wrong with... (2, Interesting)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710442)

The nice thing about the little popup flashes in most SLRs these days is that they can trigger a remote flash wirelessly.

(A modern take on the classic "optical slave" where the camera can actually control the remote flash's light output. Nikon calls this CLS, Canon calles it wireless E-TTL I think, Pentax calls it wireless P-TTL.)

Most SLRs can be put in a mode where the onboard flash is reduced so much in output that it doesn't contribute significantly to exposure at all. (It will still, however, contribute some.) It can also be allowed to contribute to exposure, causing it to act as a small fill flash.

One thing you didn't explicitly mention but have hinted at in past posts: Sometimes, instead of bringing a large reflective object (umbrella, softbox, etc), a photographer will use their environment. This is why highend flashes swivel/tilt - for example, to point the flash head at the ceiling. In this situation, the ceiling becomes a large diffuse light source. (Note: White ceiling required unless you're going for a funky effect. Black ceilings such as found at many concert venues are a pain in the ass. )

Re:What's wrong with... (2, Informative)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710824)

Everything you said is true and a good addition to what I wrote.

Although the optical slave comment... While its true that an built in flash can trigger remote flashes via optical response, the Nikon CLS and Canon ETTL require a Nikon SB800 or a Canon 580EX II to control the remote flashes if you're talking CLS and ETTL. The reason is because ETTL (I'm more experienced with as I shoot canon so I'll talk about ETTL).. The reason is ETTL transmit exposure settings via an infrared transmitter in front of the 580EX II. This is what canon considers ETTL, which is basically the camera metering the exposure with your + or - flash exposure compensation, and the correct flash power is then transmitted via the infrared transmitter on the "Master" flash which is a 580ex II mounted in the hot shoe. This sends the proper metering to the other flashes so that they do not over expose.

The classical optical slave as you mentioned, does not transmit exposure data. The remote flashes simply respond to a sudden burst of light coming from another flash. This is a problem in areas where other people are taking photos. Now a days everyone has a camera and a flash on it. That would trigger your flashes using the old optical way. So now everything requires a Nikon Speedlight or a Canon Speedlight to act as a Master controller mounted on the camera... because they communicate via infrared.

Most people though now use radio triggers. They're expensive but they're an absolute must. They do not have the range issues of infrared, and they always trigger, where as infrared is range limited and is limited to line of sight with the master flash. Radio triggers can be anywhere... and at very large distances.

And yeah those black ceilings sap the light out of everything :) hehehe Most music photos are available light as a result... stage lighting helps with it so you do have lighting usually available there already.... hopefully its good lighting ;)

I shoot mostly studio stuff though, on locations... so mostly lugging around studio lights, or speed lights with radio triggers and soft boxes etc. I have a group of 580EX II when I dont want to use bigger strobe units... and they're great. They work great with radio triggers etc.

Also one note with radio triggers.... ETTL doesnt work with radio triggers but really if you're using radios, you're in the deep end and really dont need to rely on any automatic features in cameras. First thing I do is go right to manual, or Shutter or Aperture priority modes on a camera. The automatics rarely get anything right especially when you toss lighting into the mix because the cameras dont know how much light the flashes will add to the exposure. It does with ETTL though... which can be nice at times if you have no time for crafting a shot.

Canon 580EX IIs are incredible units.

As long as... (3, Funny)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709122)

We don't have to hold it in a certain way to make it work properly.

Re:As long as... (2, Funny)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709268)

You do, if your finger hits this one spot, with a circular piece of glass on it, then the camera doesn't pick up any light –you just totally lose all reception!

Call me crazy (4, Insightful)

LBt1st (709520) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709126)

The only time I bother taking a picture with my phone's camera as opposed to a normal camera is if it's something happening spontaneous and I want to take a shot immediately.

If I'm going to take the time to make adjustments and setup lighting I'm not shooting with my cell phone.

That said, if the camera can auto-select dark spots and light them without over-lighting other areas or otherwise screwing up the shot, I could certainly see that as a good thing.

Re:Call me crazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709160)

...as opposed to a normal camera...

Define 'normal'.

Re:Call me crazy (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709188)

True, but this is something tha can be licenced to other camera manufacturers. Apple aren't in direct competition with camera companies so may be willing to do this.

Re:Call me crazy (0, Flamebait)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709196)

You're giving iPhone users enough credit to have brains.

Anyone with a brain wouldn't be using an adjustable flash on a crappy low f-stop lens like that, nor such a low resolution.

Re:Call me crazy (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709418)

Anyone with a brain would know the best camera is the one you have with you -- I welcome such options as touch-directed spot focus, raw mode, etc. that are already on my phone's camera, because sometimes (having not anticipated taking any photos) I don't have any of my "real" cameras along, and I like to be able to take the best shot possible with the gear I have on me -- if it still turns out crap, I can always delete it later...

So I for one welcome our flash-steering overlords -- here's hoping Nokia will license it or find a non-infringing method to accomplish the same thing for future Meego phones.

Re:Call me crazy (1)

aembleton (324527) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710320)

You're giving iPhone users enough credit to have brains.

Anyone with a brain wouldn't be using an adjustable flash on a crappy low f-stop lens like that, nor such a low resolution.

What's so bad about having a low f-stop lens? I like them for providing a narrow depth of field and to be able to shoot in low light conditions.

Re:Call me crazy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709212)

The only time I bother taking a picture with my phone's camera as opposed to a normal camera is if it's something happening spontaneous and I want to take a shot immediately.

Who said this would be used on phones?

Re:Call me crazy (1)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709358)

Are you referencing the difference between an iPhone and an iPod touch (same problems as a phone) or did you forget those are the only 2 devices Apple has ever made with a flash?

Re:Call me crazy (1)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710006)

No, I think he's referencing the article (which is referencing the patent application) which only mentions a camera and only has diagrams of a camera (no phone). So it's clear from the quoted description and the diagrams that they think their invention is novel enough even among standalone cameras. In any case, even if they do use this technology for their own phone, there is no reason they wouldn't license this technology to camera manufacturers. Take one of the patents they have on h.264, they've licensed it to other companies for instance (or at least they've put it in a patent pool). Also, I doubt that this functionality will make them much money if they keep it to themselves. It's not like photography is the main reason people buy iPhones/iPods (although who knows what will the future entail).

Also regarding your second comment, the latest iPod Touch doesn't seem to have a [camera] flash. May be it's there [apple.com] , but if it is, I just didn't see it (which happens sometimes). Also, I tried googling for an answer, but with all the results of Adobe Flash as it relates to the iPod Touch, there was just too much noise for me to wade through.

Re:Call me crazy (2, Insightful)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709226)

Sounds like it's more about getting better* spontaneous shots out of a small, portable device, than trying to replace a proper camera+lighting.

I don't carry a dedicated camera, unless I'm planning on doing some photography. I've always got my phone, though. Any improvement is welcome.

*"Better", as in, an improvement over what similar devices could do before, not "better" as in that which can be accomplished by less-convenient means.

Re:Call me crazy (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709442)

"Auto" sounds likely, given Apple's design style. They seemingly added the HDR feature so that iPhone users wouldn't need* to properly set the metering their pictures, for instance.

*Of course you get better results if you do set a metering "target" manually, but HDR's certainly reduced the number of photos that are ruined if you don't bother.

Re:Call me crazy (1)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709902)

Depends on what you're trying to accomplish with the picture. Many people have slammed Polaroid instant pictures. They're generally washed out, the center flash makes faces look ghostlike, the whites are unbalanced (especially after drinking). But there are galleries of Polaroid art out there. The photographers worked within the medium to create interesting images that could not be taken with an SLR without manipulation. Sure, the iPhone is nowhere near as versatile as a traditional *SLR or even a dedicated Point-and-Shoot, but it can take iPhone pictures and can certainly create art in the right hands.

Re:Call me crazy (0)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710128)

I'm not sure about the iPhones, but my Nexus One camera is shockingly good. Not good enough for use as a proper camera, but it is just fine for casual photos or ones that are spur of the moment. It wasn't that long ago that a consumer P&S of any resolution couldn't do as well.

I'm guessing that the iPhone is probably worse at it, if they're seriously considering adding this technology onto it.

Re:Call me crazy (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710796)

I think you exaggerate. Even my old Kodak P&S (CX7430) which I've passed to my mother years ago beats the crap out of every current phone camera picture quality wise. And that one was made in 2004.

How (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709218)

How do you redirect light with a solid state system ?

Will this use the same tech the new breed of laser projectors will use?

Maybe you don't (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709370)

Maybe you block off parts of it with, eg. a low-res LCD - no moving parts!

Re:Maybe you don't (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710772)

An LCD most certainly does have moving parts. It's not just a change of phase or electron state. OLED, OTOH...

Re:How (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709376)

Micro electro-mechanical mirrors? Like in a DLP TV? Or Compound fresnel/thermal-actuated tunable micro polymer lenses? Radial array of 12 super-intense leds of which only one goes off when the flash does, thereby directing the light to one of 12 regions in the image? Or why necessarily solid-state? Why not a glass/oil/water liquid lens with artificial polymer iris? Or a small spinning mirror? Or tiny piezo-actuators adjusting a solid lens/mirror array? Projection CRT light source? Magnetically contained ball lighting inside a spherical lens? Ground based control of a massive array of space mirrors? Small, directionally adjustable, particle accelerator inducing Cerenkov light? A captured imp with a tiny flashlight? Harnessing the power of a small philosophers stone in each unit to transmute some of the matter in the target into light energy? A wizard did it?

Ok, some of my later suggestions there might be a little beyond our current technological/magical/alchemical capabilities. I think some of my earlier suggestions could be implemented though.

A Flash-spotlight? (3, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709314)

Well, I have to say, it is a novel idea as far as I can tell. I could probably do one better by combining the power of a projector lamp and a DLP mirror system to paint a rather precise lighting system for the purposes of portrait photography. Light can be manipulated with very precise detail, coloring and intensity over the whole scene, not just one point. (Now, someone go patent this idea...) Using this technology, you could photoshop an image before you take it.

As someone pointed out, it is not so easy or as good when photos are edited after the fact than before. The reason why, I will assert, is that there is an unlimited range of variables of light while there is a far more limited range of variables of pixel data. The act of capturing an image on a CCD is already lossy compression of information. By setting up the image before-hand, you are increasing your ability to edit a final product in a more pleasing way.

I would be interested to know how Apple intends to integrate this into an iProduct. iPhone/iPad wouldn't be particularly good at this type of photography I don't think. To accomplish this, a complex focusing system would have to be implemented and while I have heard of liquid lenses (here on slashdot) before, I can't help but believe that the throw distance of such projection technology would be rather short.

Still, all in all, this is a neat idea. And it's not quite a software patent, so I'm okay with it.

Will never work... (2, Insightful)

cbope (130292) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709334)

Yet another way to really fuck up your photos. If you know anything about professional photography, you immediately know this is a failed "solution". In many cases when you light a scene for photography, it's the DIRECTION that the light comes from that is important together with the amount of light. That's why you rarely see camera-mounted flash used in the studio, strobes (flashes) are positioned away from the camera so as to light the scene in a certain way from one or more directions. With the proposed "invention", the direction light comes from will always be the same, close to the lens. It doesn't matter that it's only lighting a part of the scene.

Now, if Jobs has found out how to use the reality distortion field to his advantage and actually BEND light passing through the air... that would be impressive.

Re:Will never work... (3, Insightful)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709416)

My first thought on this was actually that it'd look like shit (spotlight effect), and the real solution is to take two (read: many) rapid pictures while diddling the flash. Use the dark photos and the light photos to blend a composite effect and digitally light up the area in such a way that you have a smooth transition into a brighter, better-contrasted area; or even leave it "dark" but compensate for the CCD's poor performance in the dark by correcting the dim colors and improving the contrast.

Re:Will never work... (1)

sleeping143 (1523137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710454)

Can't the iPhone can already do HDR photos [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Will never work... (3, Informative)

dangitman (862676) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709586)

If you know anything about professional photography, you immediately know this is a failed "solution". In many cases when you light a scene for photography, it's the DIRECTION that the light comes from that is important together with the amount of light. That's why you rarely see camera-mounted flash used in the studio,

Well, if you knew anything about professional photography, you'd know that on-camera flash definitely has a useful place. That's why you often see a ring-flash (the light actually surrounds the lens, so it comes from directly front-on) employed for fashion, macro and scientific photography. Flash coming from the direction of the lens is actually very useful as a fill-light, when used in moderation.

With the proposed "invention", the direction light comes from will always be the same, close to the lens. It doesn't matter that it's only lighting a part of the scene.

Actually, it would matter. One of the biggest problem with on-camera flash is that it lights the entire scene the same way, leading to highly over-exposed and under-exposed areas. If you can control where that light goes, then you will get a much better result than an on-camera flash that just blasts the scene indiscriminately.

After all, you don't always have access to off-camera lighting, particularly with a compact unit. Of course it's not going to be the same a a set of studio lights (which people don;t carry around with their phones). But it's a step up from non-controllable on-camera flash.

Change of opinion? (3, Funny)

El_Muerte_TDS (592157) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709420)

I thought Apple hated Flash, stating poor performance and what not.

I'd consider an iPhone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709432)

...when it has built-in support for PocketWizards. Until then, any attempt to improve on-camera flash (camera phone, P&S, or DSLR) is lipstick on a pig - real lighting is off camera.

Re:I'd consider an iPhone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709616)

...when it has built-in support for PocketWizards. Until then, any attempt to improve on-camera flash (camera phone, P&S, or DSLR) is lipstick on a pig - real lighting is off camera.

Still won't consider one as long as the only supported carrier is AT&T.

A great way to take shitty pictures (0)

jridley (9305) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709496)

Great, another innovation in direct flash. Direct flash is the best way to take crappy photos. If you want your subjects to look utterly washed out and flat, be sure to use direct flash.

I admit, I use it if my options are extremely limited, but it's not my first choice.

2 photos (1)

MtlDty (711230) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709518)

Isn't one solution just to take two photos a split second apart (one pre-flash and one with flash), then blend the two images together, using the region of the 'flash' photo that the user selected as the 'flash region'. If its not doing that, then where do I make a patent application? :)

iFlash (2, Funny)

DarthBender (1071972) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709602)

Apple does it and they get a patent. When I did it I got arrested.

directing light, hmm? (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709612)

sounds like Microsoft sold another license for their 'wedge' lens technology.

iPhone smart enough to augment photos (1)

mattr (78516) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710590)

The top scored comments do not consider that the iPhone has enough power and resources to augment photos.

You could take your photo and then wave the camera around in the air or even walk over to the side or closer to your subject, and the phone could be selectively lighting the scene while adding these frames onto the image. It can use the accelerometer with computer vision techniques to understand where the camera is moving. It can learn what the 3D shape of the subject is and computer 3D masking.

What I think this might mean in terms of low-hanging fruit is that the camera will shoot an image, detect the edges of dark areas that need lighting, then provide audible cues for the photographer to swing the camera to the side. The camera would then be able to shoot a series of frames automatically, blur them together, and make the tiny size of the flash appear bigger. It might also be possible for the flash to be actuated based on gesture input or shape recognition to simulate light painting (at least to highlight portions of an object somewhat artistically).

Finally the camera app could allow the user to selectively combine portions of this captured light field so that a single shot could be made to express different moods.

Approaching the subject or actuating a zoom, aperture, time delay, etc. could allow more detail, HDR, blur removal, etc. to be used to augment the image. In the end a processed 3D movie in time and reconstructed 3D scene, potentially including the photographer and what is behind him, or even including different lighting from different times of day or separately illuminated lighting, would result. This kind of a 3D photo-movie with tons of metadata could become the new photo we want to archive.

I hope this is enough to forestall any more patenting!

Not saying this will help you take good pictures. They will probably suck except for some incredibly lucky awesome ones which will be further photoshopped and used for marketing. But a more finely aimable flash combined with motion and processing in the space and time domains will certainly allow smart cameras to capture a lot more data. More so if it gets dual lenses and XY audio pickups. The iPhone seems to be the best platform. If only it would get better photo hardware...

Seriously I could see a next-gen iPhone with a honking big HD video lens and hot-swappable dual memory cards, generating tons of 3D and lighting data that can be editable on a MacBook Pro. Finally a good reason to get a multicore machine!

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