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Apple Patents Directional Flash Tech For Cameras 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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Apple Patents Directional Flash Tech For Cameras

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  • Sounds impossible (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jackie_Chan_Fan ( 730745 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @05:22AM (#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.

  • by Andy Smith ( 55346 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @05:23AM (#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? [] []

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

  • by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @05:56AM (#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:Sounds impossible (Score:4, Informative)

    by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @06:00AM (#33709270)

    You're right....not phone size yet. []

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan ( 730745 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @06:03AM (#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.

  • by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @07:37AM (#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.

  • Re:Sounds impossible (Score:3, Informative)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @08:25AM (#33709760) Journal

    >>>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 (Score:3, Informative)

    by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Monday September 27, 2010 @08:59AM (#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.

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan ( 730745 ) on Monday September 27, 2010 @10:23AM (#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.

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