Hello, everyone! My name is Eric Cheng, and I am Director of Photography at Lytro. I’m responsible for bridging the gap between light field cameras and folks like you, who will be taking Lytro cameras into the field sometime in the near future.
If you’ve been to our living picture gallery, you’ve seen the work of photographers in the Lytro Professional Shooter Program (PSP), a small group of forward-thinking artists who lept at the chance to be the first to use Lytro prototype cameras in the field.
Through a mutual friend, I met Richard Koci Hernandez, a Pulitzer Prize-winning multimedia journalist and professor at U.C. Berkeley, and was immediately struck by his obvious love of—and obsession with—storytelling. Koci became one of our first Lytro PSPs, and has been working magic with light field photography ever since.
Over the weekend, I interviewed Koci about his early experiences as a light field photographer:
EC: What were your first impressions about the idea of light field photography?
RH: My first impressions were that light field photography sounded academic, highly-technical and too good to be true. It sounded like something from a Hollywood Sci-Fi movie.
EC: When I first handed you a Lytro prototype camera, you put your head in your hands and said, “It’s not fair!” What did you mean by that? :)
RH: I meant many things. First with my tongue firmly in cheek, it wasn’t fair that all that technology was presented in such a small package, albeit a ‘masked’ package. More importantly, as someone who spent 30 years honing my craft, which includes the art of ‘focusing’, it wasn’t fair that the idea of focus being obsolete was effectively handed to me on a platter.
EC: Have there been any other moments in your career as a storyteller that have evoked similar emotions?
RH: The move from analog to digital ‘film’ and the introduction of auto focus were pretty revolutionary during my career. Light field photography to me is on par with those kinds of revolutions in photography. Without a doubt, light field photography has had the most emotional impact for me.
EC: How has light field photography changed the way you think about storytelling?
RH: It strips away a technical layer. When I frame an image I think about capturing moments, light, composition and focus. With focus stripped away I get more time to concentrate on story.
EC: Tell us the story behind one of your Living Pictures.
RH: I loved being outside with my daughter Sophia and her friend Liam and capturing my daughter’s excitement to Liam’s skateboard tricks. Liam caught some air and she reacted by turning and smiling.
Catching air: Koci’s daughter, Sophia, with her friend, Liam
I didn’t have to worry about focus—I knew everything I wanted to be in focus would be because of light field technology, so I got to concentrate on capturing Liam in peak action and Sophia in peak reaction.
EC: How did others react after interacting with your living pictures for the first time?
RH: There is always a huge WOW factor. After a few clicks, a beaming smile comes over their face, then usually the first word out of their mouth is a playful, ‘really?” I usually smile and return a “yup, it’s for real!”
EC: Do you see light field photography having a place in photojournalism? (and if so, how?)
RH: The short answer is of course. It’s a technology that can enhance the journalistic conversation. On the other hand, I think that the photojournalism community will resist this technology at first. Photojournalist’s see focus as within their editorial control, they won’t easily give that control up. In time they will adapt.
EC: 1-minute, free-form, stream-of-consciousness typing about ANYTHING. Ready? Go!
RH: Argh! What does this mean? Does it really matter? STORY matters. Focus. Focus on what I should be saying and typing. Are there bigger implications here? This was a great question. Probably not a great answer. But wait, there wasn’t a question. This is free form. Row row row your boat gently down the stream. Weird. Isn’t it weird that I said that light field technology allows me to FOCUS on other things like story? The elimination of FOCUS allows me TO FOCUS. Has this technology also changed the meaning of the word?
EC: Do you have any messages for folks out there who are waiting for their first light field camera?
RH: It’s worth the wait. :)