Lytro and Communication

Lytro is the most extreme example of a technology which will allow for more control in photographic post processing. It also has the potential to completely change how we will interact with photo editing programs. Yet its point will be completely lost on a large number of consumer photographers since they don’t post process anything.

—My first reaction to Lytro, last June

The reviews are out now. And they’re annoying. Mainly because it seems like the first generation camera is one of those “this is a neat gimmick” products rather than one which actually addresses or improves how people consume photography.

I’m not as much of a hater as I appear to be. Really. My main problem with the product is that it appears to be headed in completely the wrong direction and as such, risks branding the technology as a failure because marketing screwed up.

Right now, Lytro is a  gimmick. The finished product is anything but finished. And the camera itself encourages sloppy communication—the opposite of what a good camera should do. I’m upset because the technology is hugely exciting and has the potential to transform photography.

Between Lytro’s “Living Pictures” and the Nikon 1 systems “Motion Snapshots” we’re moving closer to Harry Potter photographs where images are no longer still but they aren’t movies either. Lytro’s problem is that what it considers to be the final output is only the first step—akin to presenting a RAW digital file or film negative as the final output. For most photos, and for all non-photographers, this is a waste of time. When we look at photos, we don’t want to have to ask about what the point of the photo is.

It’s telling that all the reviews state how it’s difficult to take good photos with Lytro cameras since standard shots all look flat. If any other camera came out and was reviewed with “this makes it harder to take photos” it would be dead in the water.

Photos are communication. The photographer needs to determine the message. The camera is a tool toward communicating clearly.

I do not want to figure out what the point of your image is by wading through infinite focal planes. If multiple planes of focus need to be presented, the photographer needs to choose the relevant ones and the final output should only show those—preferably in the sequence which the photographer chose.

Being able to pick focus post-exposure is great. It eliminates pre-exposure focusing errors and would make a welcome addition to any photographer’s toolkit. But it’s a tool, not an end product.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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