Light, Vision and Imagery
By: David Wood - November 28, 2001
What follows is a detailed article on light, vision and imagery. It is quite long, 46 pages when printed, so
it may take a while to read. For your convenience I have included an Adobe PDF version of the document
that you can print out and read later at your leisure.
Pictures of Huygens, Maxwell, Newton, Young, Planck, Einstein and Gabor courtesy of the University of Frankfurt.
Illustration of Depth of Field (focus) courtesy of Robert Ian Axford.
Photographs of "Helios" volumetric display courtesy of Actuality Systems Incorporated.
Virtual reality illustration contains 3D models courtesy of 3dCafe.com.
"Max Payne" is a registered trademark of 3D Realms Entertainment.
"ChromaDepth" is a registered trademark of ChromaDepth Incorporated.
"View-Master" is a registered trademark of Fisher-Price Incorporated, a subsidiary of Mattel Corporation.
All other content copyright David Wood 2001. Reproduction in any form, by any means, without permission on the author is prohibited.
While every attempt has been made to ensure that the information contained
in this document has been obtained from reliable sources, the author is not
responsible for any errors or omissions, or for results obtained by the use
of this information. All information in this document is provided "as is",
with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, and without warranty of any kind,
express or implied, including, but not limited to warranties of performance,
merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event will the
author be liable to you or anyone else for any decision made or action taken
in reliance on the information in this document or for any consequential,
special or similar damages, even if advised of the possibility of such
In February of 2000 I wrote a nine-page article on 3D Imagery and published it on a website called nVNews.net that I contribute to occasionally. nVNews is a site primarily centered around computer graphics cards, but I figured that the visitors might be interested in a more general exploratory article rather than yet another review of a recently released graphics card. The article was extremely well received and I still get positive feedback from it today. This feedback motivated me to start a new version of the article one year late in February of 2001. It's now November 2001 and at the time of writing this, the new 46 page "article" is finally near completion.
With this document I wanted to describe light, vision, and imagery in much greater detail than I had in my previous article. My plan was to describe what light is and its characteristics, how we then see light with our eyes, and then to follow with a description of how human beings have used light and visual media to represent information and to create forms of entertainment and expression over the centuries. This new article wouldn't just describe 3D, but also other imagery technologies like photography.
When I began my research it soon became apparent that this would be quite a large article. It is not a simple task to describe what light is, in fact you can't describe it without introducing the reader to the principles of quantum physics, which is exactly what the first part of this document does. I would have given up on this part of the document if it weren't for the help of physicist Nick Evanson, an nVNews visitor, who was of great help in answering my questions.
The second part of the article describes human vision, a primary sense for most people. I also describe how the human visual system can sense depth (how close or distant an object is). Depth is the only aspect of human vision that is still under-exploited by imaging technology. I also enlisted the help of optical engineer Robert Ian Axford, who provided feedback and the excellent examples of "depth of field" in this part.
The third part describes how the human race has used vision and visible media to express themselves and store information over the millennia. I will discuss cave paintings, writing, photography, cinema and TVs. The last half of this part will discuss techniques for creating three-dimensional images and finish with a new and very promising display technology developed by a company called Actuality Systems Inc.
I hope that by reading this document you will learn a few things and also have a greater appreciation for the high-resolution virtual reality simulation that we live in called "real life".