Capturing 3D surfaces with a flash camera via /.

Comparing a flashlit photo with one taken in ambient light can reveal the texture of a surface, and could help develop more realistic computer games… The virtual worlds in computer games provide a realistic backdrop to the action. But step too close and the effect is lost – you’ll see that textures and patterns are usually displayed on flat surfaces that look dull and artificial.

A simpler way to add depth to textured surfaces could change that.

The new technique can reconstruct the depth of a surface simply by taking two photos of it – one with a flash and one without (see video, right). Merely analysing the resulting shading patterns can capture the surface’s 3D texture.

Until now making realistic textures required the use of bulky and expensive laser scanners, says Mashhuda Glencross at the University of Manchester, UK. And the process is really time-consuming, she adds.