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The iPhone and Studio Lighting Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

12 September 2017

Fresh from its success with Portrait mode, the iPhone team was challenged to come up with another fancy photographic technique that could be added to the growing suite of tools within reach of iPhonographers.

They came up with Studio Lighting.

Studio lighting, that is, without the monoblocs, light modifiers, scrims, reflectors and all the other ways to sculpt the human head with nothing more than light.

No, Studio Lighting is not as good as studio lighting. But it teaches a couple of lessons.


We've left the era where image editing was done after capture.

The problem with that model, which was the only one available to use before someone put a computer in a camera, is that it is 2D. A lot of information has already been discarded by the time you open an image file in image editing software.

You know the distance of the subject from the camera but that's it. You don't know the relative distance of anything else in the image. And consequently, you don't know the shape of anything. Everything can be flat in a 2D world.

That's what has always made masking an image and compositing such an art. Even as today's tools get more and more sophisticated about building masks, they aren't perfect.

Then can't be. The data is only 2D.

But when you can map a face in 3D, things change. You have a way to tell the difference between where someone's head is and where the building behind them is.

And when you have a lot of processing power, you can even apply some nifty calculations in real time.

So you can compose in 3D, blurring the background as if the lens were seeing it that way, as Portrait mode does.


But when you try to light a subject mapped in 3D, you discover it isn't really in 3D. It's more 2.5D. You can only see things in bas relief, like a cameo.

You get the head to its widest point, but no more. So, as the examples in today's Apple keynote demonstrated, no backlighting.

And what portrait photographer doesn't backlight?


Portrait photographers won't be wrong to shake their heads in dismay at Studio Lighting on the new iPhone. But they'd be wrong to turn up their noses.

Computational photography has expanded from post processing into composing. It isn't a question any more of what can you do with 2D data. It's a question of how you can acquire the 3D data you need to render a scene the way you want to instead of how you see it.

Either as you are composing or later (perhaps thanks to the adoption of the HEIF format keeping these adjustments editable) in post processing.

That's the exciting thing.

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