How the Lytro Camera Works

Living Pictures

The Lytro company calls LFP images "living pictures." That's because you can share these images through a special platform called the Lytro Web. The platform supports the software that lets you switch the focus on an image. By sharing your photos on this platform, you can let other people explore your photos and change the focus as frequently as they like.

You can also choose to keep your files stored locally on your computer, viewing them with the Lytro Desktop software. This software also gives you the ability to switch the focus on any image snapped with the Lytro camera any time you like. While the LFP files contain all the information about the light field of the images you've snapped, the software contains the set of instructions required to switch out the focal points.

One of the downsides to the light field photography approach is that image files tend to be large. They're big because capturing all the information within a light field takes up a lot of data space. A typical LFP file is around 16 megabytes. By contrast, a typical JPEG image on the Web may only be 30 kilobytes or smaller.

Another downside is that you can't share an LFP image outside of the Lytro Web platform. If you want to share an LFP, you first must upload it to Lytro Web. Then you can send the link to whomever you like.

You can convert LFP files into JPEG files but there's a catch. A JPEG can't support the living picture format -- in other words, you can't switch the focus. To export an LFP as a JPEG, first you have to choose which focal point you want in your image. As a JPEG, your picture will be unchangeable -- it's just a normal digital photo.

Will light-field photography eliminate the need to develop photography skills like composition and focus? In the short term, it seems like the Lytro's limitations will prevent it from eliminating the hard work and artistic skill serious photographers develop over years of practice. But perhaps in the future these cameras will make it easy to just point, shoot and focus on whatever you like later.

Here's an example of a Living Picture. This image was captured by Lytro community member hanlin. Clicking on the Eiffel Tower in the background brings it into focus. Clicking on the model in the foreground switches the focus back again.