Imagine adding beautiful lighting to a photo after you took the picture.
A camera developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could get you there. But first, let's talk speed: This one-of-a-kind camera can track the movement of individual packets of light, or photons, by capturing 1 trillion frames per second.
The high-speed imaging system allows researchers to capture how light scatters across an object in very fine detail. It opens up the possibility of doing three-dimensional ultrasound scans with light, testing for defects during manufacturing, and giving consumer-grade cameras the ability to overlay light after a photo is taken.
Although it's still just a goal, MIT Media Lab associate professor Ramesh Raskar says the imaging system could let a consumer with a small flash take studio-quality photos.
"With our ultrafast imaging, we can actually analyze how the photons are traveling through the world. And then we can recreate a new photo by creating the illusion that the photons started somewhere else," Raskar said in a statement.
Capturing how individual photons bounce around a scene and travel inside an object doesn't come cheap. The ultrafast camera uses $250,000 of equipment, including a titanium sapphire laser and a streak camera adapted for high-speed photography. Normally used to determine the chemical composition of a material, a streak camera is an array of 500 sensors each triggered to capture light 1 trillion times per second.
The cameras shoot light in only dimension but then a rotating mirror takes images from different perspectives. That creates a huge amount of data that then needs to be analyzed and compiled to create a video of the movement of light over or inside an object.
"Because we can see those photons, we could use them to look inside objects--for example, for medical imaging, or to identify materials," said MIT Media Lab postdoctoral associate Andreas Velten.