New software in development at Cornell easily alters lighting conditions in post-edit

cornell user assisted image compositing for photographic lighting computational design research 1

Ever stumbled on a listing for a dream apartment on Craigslist, only to be disappointed when you looked through the photos that are either heavily overexposed or underexposed? If so, then you know how important good lighting is, as it can make or break a sale. These photos are often taken by the broker or landlord who’s using a point-and-shoot or cell phone, and using whatever light is at their disposal. Unless you’re a multimillion-dollar real estate company, chances are you don’t have the budget to hire a pro photographer who has the equipment to control the lighting. But new software developed by researchers at Cornell University with support from Adobe could one day help us change the lighting conditions of a photo after it’s been shot.

The Cornell software's "basis lights and modifiers."
The Cornell software’s “basis lights and modifiers.”

The software is an enhancement to “computational lighting design,” a technique that’s currently used by photographers in architecture and advertising to adjust lighting after a scene had been shot using minimal equipment. How it currently works is: a camera on a tripod takes many shots at various exposures while someone walks around a room and repositions a flash to expose different areas of the scene. All these shots are then fed into Photoshop as layers, which can then be used to change the conditions to whatever suits the mood or assignment.

Using Cornell's software to change the lighting conditions of a room.
Using Cornell’s software to change the lighting conditions of a room.

The problem with this technique is that the post-editing process takes a long time, but the Cornell software streamlines that process by sorting and combining layers into three composite images that the researchers call “basis lights,” according to Cornell University’s Cornell Chronicle. “Edge Lighting, which emphasizes the shapes of objects and their shadows; Fill Lighting, which illuminates everything uniformly; and Diffuse Color Light, which brings out the color and texture of every object,” the Chronicle wrote, explaining the three basis lights. “The user can select areas of the image in which to apply varying amounts of each. Adding more Fill Light, for example, lightens shadows.”

cornell-computational-lighting-design-research-4
Another example of how the software can be used to changed the lighting after it’s been shot, using composites of multiple images that were taken (shown up top).

“We also introduce modifiers that capture standard photographic tasks, e.g., to alter the lights to soften highlights and shadows, akin to umbrellas and soft boxes,” according to the research paper abstract.

During the research, pro photographers who work with computational lighting design were asked to compare the Cornell software and traditional method, and they found the basis lights gave them a good starting point while reducing time spent. What’s more interesting is that seven novices with limited photography experience were able to produce professional quality results in an average of 15 minutes, the Chronicle wrote.

Kavita Bala, the Cornell associate professor of computer science who’s leading the project along with graduate student Ivaylo Boyadzhiev and Sylvain Paris of Adobe Research, said the software is not ready for primetime, but she hopes a prototype will be available. Bala said the final product would probably become part of Photoshop or Lightroom. 

Let’s hope this comes soon, as those real estate brokers and landlords would finally have an easy tool that’ll turn apartments from crappy-looking slums into luxury condos – in photos, at least.

Check out the video below for a demo.

(Images via PetaPixel via Cornell Chronicle/Cornell University)

Emerging Tech

Black holes devour nearby stars and spew brilliant X-rays during outburst phase

Physicists have investigated an explosion of X-ray light originating from a black hole in an outburst phase. The data suggests during an outburst, black holes consume huge amounts of stellar material and shrink in size by a factor of ten.
Smart Home

Array by Hampton brought locks and security lighting to CES 2019

Lock and lighting company Hampton is at CES 2019 with a new line of smart home products. Called Array by Hampton, the lineup includes internet-connected locks, lights, and an app to control them.
Smart Home

Leviton’s smart home line shines with Alexa-powered smart switch and lights

Leviton is at CES 2019 and showing off a lot of new, connected lighting options including a dimmer switch that has Alexa built right into it and Wi-Fi connected outlets that make it easy to take control of your devices.
Gaming

The Elgato Key Light gets streamers’ good sides at CES 2019

Elgato announced the Elgato Key Light, a light that can clamp onto nearly any desk and provide streaming with professional-quality lighting, complete with the ability to adjust it on the fly from a PC or Mac.
Photography

Olympus’ latest teaser shares glimpse of new OM-D camera geared toward sports

Is Olympus about to release a new mirrorless camera geared toward sports photographers? The latest teaser offers a glimpse of an upcoming OM-D camera set to launch on January 24, and by the looks of the teasers, it's geared toward sports.
Photography

Lexar’s latest SDXC card keeps you shooting with 1 TB of storage

Shoot large files at high capacity? Lexar's latest SDXC memory card will fit a terabyte of storage inside your camera. The Lexar SD card is part of the company's Professional 633x series. That higher capacity will come at a cost, however.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Photography

See ya, CFast: 1TB CFexpress card transfers photos at 1,400MB per second

The latest trend in professional removable storage media is fast approaching. At CES 2019, ProgradeDigital revealed its first CFexpress card, featuring a 1-terabyte capacity and bewildering 1,400 megabyte-per-second transfer rate.
Photography

From 11K to just OK: The biggest photo gear announcements at CES 2019

From 11K cameras to 1 TB media cards, CES 2019 brought a peek at new gear for photographers and videographers. But what photography gear grabbed our attention the most? Here are the biggest photo gear announcements from CES 2019.
Photography

What to look for and what to avoid when buying a camera

Looking to buy a new camera? Our comprehensive camera guide for 2016 has answers to any camera or photography questions you might ask, whether in regards to pricing, image quality, or weatherproofing.
Social Media

No yolk! A photo of an egg has become the most-liked post on Instagram

Until this weekend, the most-liked post on Instagram was of Kylie Jenner's baby daughter, which has around 18 million likes. It's now been knocked off the top spot not by a stunning sunset or even a cute cat, but by an egg.
Photography

Going somewhere? Capture more than your phone can with the best travel cams

Hitting the road or doing some globetrotting this year? Bring along the right camera to capture those once-in-a-lifetime vacation memories. Here's a list of some of our current favorites.
Photography

From 4K powerhouses to tiny action cams, here are the best video cameras

Although not as popular as they once were, dedicated video cameras still have their benefits. From travel vlogging to home movies to recording your kid's little league game, here are the best video cameras you can buy right now.