Live from TEDGlobal 2013

The space between photo and video: Blaise Agüera y Arcas at TEDGlobal 2013

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. June 12-15, 2013. Photo: Ryan Lash

Photo: Ryan Lash

On a tablet, Blaise Agüera y Arcas takes us on a walk through Edinburgh Castle, less than a mile from the TEDGlobal 2013 theater. With a swipe of his finger, we fly through the 15th-century castle — people and objects dissolving as we go — as if we were in a scene from a movie orchestrated by a special-effects master. In fact, these images were taken with a simple cameraphone. The trick: they were assembled into a 3D environment by Photosynth 2.

Blaise Agüera y Arcas: How PhotoSynth can connect the world's imagesBlaise Agüera y Arcas: How PhotoSynth can connect the world's imagesAgüera y Arcas shared the original Photosynth at TED2007. At the time, the technology constructed images onto a spherical model. “When we started Photosynth, we wanted to think about how to reinvent the enterprise of photography for ordinary people using computer vision and augmented reality,” he says. “In the meantime we’ve been working on the next generations of that technology.”

Photosynth enabled computers to understand images not just as pixels, but as spatial captures of a particular moment and place. The new version simplifies the process of stitching together images into a “synth,” as they call the final product, a continuous mesh of photos seamlessly edited together with a 3D effect. He spins us through a dense forest, and shows pictures taken through a plane window. Things closer to the camera move at a different speed than things that are far way, creating a sensation of reality — only stylized.

TEDGlobal 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland. June 12-15, 2013. Photo: Ryan Lash

Photo: Ryan Lash

Before his talk, Agüera y Arcas gave the TED Blog a sneak peek of Photosynth 2, and revealed the question he gets asked most commonly about the technology: How is it different from video? Here’s how: While video is arranged temporally, synths are arranged spatially. The creativity is in the placement of the camera as shots are snapped, as much as it is in what’s being photographed. As he puts it, synths exist somewhere in the space between photo and video.

Comments (1)

  • Nathanael Lawrence commented on Dec 8 2013

    Kate, thanks for your description of Blaise’s talk.
    I’ve been waiting for the video to be put online for months, so was glad to have some idea of what was said and shown.

    There is a mistake in what you say about Photosynth in the second paragraph, though. It begins with,
    “Agüera y Arcas shared the original Photosynth at TED2007.
    At the time, the technology constructed images onto a spherical model.”

    That first sentence is true, however the second sentence is false.

    Photosynth as first conceived in 2006, from Noah Snavely’s Photo Tourism, shown at TED2007, and released on 2008 August 20th was all about a completely free form system where as long as what was seen in one photo was within half or double the size of that same thing seen in another photo from within 15 degrees of rotation of the first photo, the two would be spatially linked.

    Photosynth did not add support to upload spherical panoramas until 2010 and when they did, it was not the Photosynth application which stitched the panoramas, but rather Microsoft ICE who had been allowing users to create high resolution panoramas for free since 2008.

    Most people who know the Photosynth name from the past two and a half years know it from Photosynth’s mobile panorama apps. This was partly because panoramas are relatively easy to understand how to shoot and how to view (but also because mobile hardware is not yet strong enough to put synths together and panoramas are easier to compute). Originally, though, Photosynth wasn’t about panoramas as such at all.

    Panoramas are all about the camera looking in all different directions from one point of view, whereas the original Photosynth was all about the camera looking at (at least) one subject from all different directions.

    I hope I don’t come across as a know it all or trying to put you down.
    I’m just a fan of what Photosynth was in the beginning and remain interested to see what their plans for the future are.

    Again, thank you so much for your write up and photos for those of us who couldn’t attend the conference in person and are still waiting for the video of the talk to be put online.