Software Lets You Tweak The Lighting of Your Scene After the Fact Until It’s Perfect


Researchers at Cornell University recently developed a new piece of software in conjunction with Adobe that could some day help amateurs and professionals alike exert more control over how exactly certain static scenes are lit.

The software — developed by a team led by associate professor of computer science Kavita Bala — is based on improving a technique known as “computational lighting design.” Some architectural and advertising photographers, when working with limited gear or as a means of exerting more control over their final product, have begun using this technique.

Instead of using many lights to illuminate a scene perfectly for one specific shot, they set up their camera and walk around with one flash — taking hundreds of exposures while changing the lighting just slightly. Those exposures are then loaded into Photoshop as layers, and are then mixed, altered and matched until the perfectly lit scene is achieved.


As you might imagine, the approach is extremely time-consuming even for professionals, requiring many hours in front of the computer. Bala and her team’s new software greatly simplifies the process by combining many layers automatically into four “basis lights and modifiers,” that can then be applied in differing degrees on the scene as a whole or even on individual objects within the scene.

Here’s the team’s demonstration from SIGGRAPH 2013:

As you can see, the process is made significantly more simple. In fact, according to the paper, the researchers found that seven novice users with little experience in photography were able to create professional quality results in an average of 15 minutes.

By playing with the four modifiers — edge light, fill light, diffuse light and soft light — the seven novice users found that getting professional results was in reach, while the three professionals tested enthusiastically said the software “made their workflow more efficient.”

Just one of many ways one could light this scene using the software.

Just one of many ways one could light this scene using the software.

Speaking with the Cornell Chronicle, Bala said the software is not production ready, but that she hopes to release a prototype soon. Given that the research was supported in part by Adobe, it’s no surprise that Bala sees the software making an appearance in either Photoshop or Lightroom sometime in the future.

(via Cornell Chronicle)

  • Phillip Jackson

    The final image looks oddly lit though and has an uncomfortable feel to it. Not sure if a hotel chain or location would want that to help sell their space. I’m sure there are a lot of good applications for this style of shooting though.

  • BDWT

    The result looks like a 3D rendering!

  • Andre Gasket

    I agree it looks like a strange rendering – but I so want to play with it!

  • Miedza Lightart

    i did similar thing with a video software called lightpaintlive-heavy
    and lightpaintlive-mercury
    the max. resolution (in heavy) is limited to the common 1920×1080 (fullHD)
    it worth to play with ist o understand what giant space could be used into the future
    mercury is for free on the web

  • Miedza Lightart

    sample preview from a result on working with lightpaintlive-heavy

  • Edwaste

    Oloneo Software was capable of that for a long time now.

  • Neale Smith

    Looks to me like more short cut software, nothing makes up for getting this done properly with real lights in the field, nothing! The final images looks terribly fake, there’s no comparison! Someone somewhere will have an application for this, as an interiors photographer who employs the methods they’re trying to mimic, this falls well short of the mark, my clients would never accept it!

  • arthas191

    I was about to comment the same. I was testing the beta version 2 years ago. It works beautifully. Lets see if this new software has something cooler features. Maybe more number of lights (Oloneo had a max of 3 in beta).