# Is vector photography possible?

Of course any bitmap image can be vectorized, but might we ever reach a point where a camera can make an outline image that looks exactly like a photograph? Could the resulting image even be considered a photograph, and if not, what defines a photograph?

• I photographed a Vector once but he was not very photogenic or cooperative and i just could not stay on coarse. YMMV. What defines a photograph, indeed. – Alaska Man Jan 6 at 19:53

I think the problem here is one of level of detail. While vectorization works great for making an image that can scale infinitely, it relies on firm patterns that can be mathematically described.

Unfortunately, real life is full of imperfections and variations that make it impossible to describe in a pure vector format, at-least with any meaningful gain. We could theoretically make a vector format that maps every single pixel, but then we'd have a raster image that couldn't scale any better than a normal raster image.

Image and video compression are already the applications of the kind of thinking you are talking about. They look for the patterns that can be identified to reduce the storage required and when using lossy compression, they bend the rules further to get a match so that they can reduce the amount of information necessary to represent the image.

Vectorizing the image is another level of extreme for this, but you will notice that the image quality always drops significantly when such vectorization is applied (due to the loss of the random information that makes a photo look like real life.)

As for whether a vector image of a scene is a photo or not. I think that's a really hard question to answer. Personally, I'd say yes, if it is a rendering of real life based on sampling the light (regardless of how lifelike it may be), I think that it probably could be considered a photograph, but I could also see how someone might see it as more akin to a painting at that point as well. I don't think there is a strong line answer there.

• It just occurred to me a few days ago: vector photography is impossible. For an image to be truly a vector image, it would have to be infinitely scalable. But real life is not infinitely scalable. There is no way a camera could capture every atom in a scene to the point that you could zoom to the atomic level and beyond (beyond?). Such an image could be terabytes in size. – Lee Sleek Jun 20 '13 at 16:30
• @LeeSleek - such an image wouldn't necessarily be terabytes in size if it could fit to a mathematical model, but real life doesn't typically fit that well to a mathematical model due to imperfections. An atomic level accurate raster image would be FAR larger than terabytes. – AJ Henderson Jun 20 '13 at 17:03
• I was taking into account that vector images are generally smaller than raster images. Anyways, even if we could create a vector camera, what would be the difference between it and a camera that vectorized the bitmaps it saw? – Lee Sleek Jun 20 '13 at 21:00
• @LeeSleek - well that's just it, a true vector representation of real life is pretty much impossible. Best you can hope for is an approximation. I don't think it is conceivable that a camera could do native vector capture, so it would have to be a vectorization of a bitmap image. That's the only way a camera producing vector graphics would be possible. – AJ Henderson Jun 20 '13 at 21:40
• @LeeSleek the closest thing you could get to a vector image camera would be an image that tried to fit visual light patterns into geometric drawing commands. In theory I guess a sensor could be set up with some kind of esoteric shutter and projected light pattern that attempted to "scan" for geometric shapes (e.g., straight lines) by combining a long series of exposures to a image sensor; it's an interesting thought experiment but the image quality would probably be worse than a standard camera; might be useful for measurement in some cases? I'd probably trust standard 2d image tools over that – jrh May 28 '19 at 22:50

Such cameras exist today such as those used to survey road accident sites.

Those cameras create a 'point cloud' of vector distance measurements based on reflected laser light and there is no need to be evenly spaced or co-located pixels although they normally are (as it's easier to do it that way). There are ways which that captured image can then be displayed using interpolated projections (including on vector displays as used to be used by CAD operators in days gone by) or by printing using either material removal (like CNC) or an additive process (such as Selective Laser Sintering.) There's no reason why such a camera couldn't record colour information and they may even do that anyway.

The word Photograph is a compound of Photo (light) and Graph (record) as such, yes it would be photography as it would be recorded light.

• A point cloud is still a raster image though, it just has depth data. That isn't a vector based image. A vector image uses a mathematical model to describe where lines should appear and how the shapes they form should be filled, thus allowing perfect scaling, thus the same image can be used to fill a billboard or print a business card. – AJ Henderson May 22 '13 at 13:58
• A raster image has no relationship between the points, it is simply that the input is taken for each individual point without any regard for the points around it. A laser scanner does the same thing, but stores depth information for how far each point was from the sensor. Sure you can make an imperfect vectorization of the scene, but any detail that was smaller than the model that approximates the point cloud can represent will be lost, the exact same way information is lost in the vectorization of a flat image. – AJ Henderson May 23 '13 at 16:49
• @JamesSnell: The mathematical models have never been the limitation. You're never going to be a able to build a camera that could take a picture of the whole earth with down to the atom resolution, but there is nothing mathematically preventing you from representing such an image. This whole question suffers from a misunderstanding of the purposes of raster vs vector graphics. – whatsisname May 23 '13 at 18:20
• @JamesSnell - that's raster scan, not raster graphics. Raster simply means that the information is stored as a set of points or a dot matrix data structure. A 3d scan is still this even if the method of projection is projection from a point through the grid. You can check out wikipedia for an in-depth article on raster graphics. – AJ Henderson May 23 '13 at 20:02
• I will grant that a point cloud isn't pure raster though as it could be mapped in to a 3d space and images from multiple angles could be combined to form a point cloud that can't be represented in a raster manner. A single 3d laser scan however is fundamentally a set of raster sampleings with depth information stored. Even if it isn't considered raster, it still does not fit the definition of vector graphics which are mathematically modeled forms used for point generation when creating a raster image from the vector graphic. – AJ Henderson May 23 '13 at 20:10

Please humor me:. Consider that "randomness" in nature is mostly not true randomness but fractal, stochastic and other complex but all formal mathematical patterns. Imagine AI that can accurately extrapolate the patterns from an image with a high degree of certainty --- definitely including all the data in a raster image of whatever resolution, but also including the infinitely complex patterns between the pixels. Isn't this possible?

• Is this a question asked "of the ether", or is this a Socratic question asked as a form of answer to the original question? That is, are you intending to create a dialogue, or are you intending to answer the question in an oblique way, knowing the answer to your question? The difference between the two forms is the difference between discussion and Q&A. In case you didn't know, this site is not a discussion forum—it's a Q&A site. – scottbb Jan 5 at 20:46
• Humoring you and taking it at face value, modern physics does not agree that nature at the lowest level is able to extrapolated; that is, at the quantum level, nature is not quantifiable. That is, it would require more bits than there are particles in the universe, or alternately, more computer power than is available in all the energy in the universe. – scottbb Jan 5 at 20:51
• Only in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Episode 8. Trintragula did it to create the Total Perspective Vortex.. – Chenmunka Jan 6 at 18:41