Behind the Lens: A new way to look at photography

New photo sensor technology from a startup company called Lytro captures color information from all points of light within the frame, allowing a photographer to change the image's focus after the photo has been taken. In images like this one, the focal point could be changed on the fly to the ball, the boy or the house in the background.

Being a photographer for 30-something years, I’ve seen quite a change in the way photographs are taken, both by the photographer and by the equipment that has advanced over the last few years. It has been like a beam of light that’s never going to end. Breakthroughs in photo sensors and media storage have lead to increased image size and improved quality, along with features like auto focus, that young photographers take for granted. With cameras that remove much of the guesswork before a photo is taken, what ground is left to be broken? How about a camera that allows you to improve photos after they have already been taken?

I was talking to a friend last weekend and he asked me abut a new camera made by a small Silicon Valley startup called Lytro that allowed a photographer to go back and refocus an image after it had been captured. It stunned me until the next morning. I was watching the news and there was a story about this exact camera.

After the news piece, I visited the company’s site,, to get some more information. Here’s what I found out:

Lytro was founded by Ren Ng, a researched at Stanford University that specialized in light-field photography. The company’s technology revolves around a new sensor that captures more data by recording the color, intensity and direction of every single beam of light in its field of view. Because of the amount of information, the picture can be edited and sharpened to any specific viewpoint within the photograph. For example, if you took a photo of some friends with the ocean in the background, you could change the image’s focus from your friends to the ocean waves or even a seagull in the air without suffering any of the usual pixealtion or archiving that occurs in traditional post-photo doctoring.

This kind of technology will be a big stir in the photography world. And while the capabilities of changing an existing photo might raise some questions, it sure will make it easier to fix a goof or missed shot. It might even change the way we look at photography and framing altogether, but only time will tell on that prediction. Lytro isn’t planning on making this technology available to the major camera companies like Nikon or Canon. Instead, the company is making its own, supposedly by the end of the year. While Lytro has announced a consumer camera, a price has yet to be named. Somehow, I doubt they’re going to be cheap.