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The Science of Photography
by Elizabeth M. Jarrell for Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Aug 15, 2013

Photographer Pat Izzo stands in the pond at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in preparation for a shoot. Image Credit: NASA Goddard/Bill Hrybyk.

Imaging technology relies less on art than on engineering and science. Photographer Pat Izzo has the unique combination of a specialized science and engineering background coupled with an artistic eye that allows him to work with scientists and engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to create the images they want. Izzo is retiring in the middle of August.

"I have some artistic talent," Izzo said. "But at my core I am an imaging technologist, a photo scientist."

A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in imaging technology, Izzo concentrated on the science behind photography, especially the chemistry and physics. One of his specialties is sensitometry, the science of tone reproduction, which involves dissecting the various tones of an image, converting each tone into a number and then manipulating the numbers to understand the picture from a scientific point of view.

"When you're looking at an image, that's a qualitative understanding, a visual impression," Izzo said. "We change the image from a visual to a numerical representation. That's sensitometry."

Another of Izzo's specialties is photo lab production technology, which involves applying the science of photography to the mass production of images. The technique is the same when using a photochemical process in a lab or an electronic process on a computer.

His third and favorite specialty is high-speed photography, which is based on high-speed motion analysis using physics and engineering. When mechanical devices operating at speeds much faster than the eye can see are having difficulties, the engineers and scientists call Izzo.

"I can take a million pictures per second," Izzo said. "It's pretty awesome stuff! At Goddard, we typically work at 1,000-2,000 pictures per second."

In high-speed motion analysis, Izzo photographs the device in motion using digital video technology to slow down the action to slow motion to reveal the source of the problems. Using specialized software, he tracks and measures the movement between consecutive images.

That movement is then translated into numbers. Scientists can then use those numbers to determine velocity, acceleration, displacement, power, force and kinetic energy. Izzo's imagery for the fifth space shuttle flight in 1982 contributed to determining the in-orbit separation of the communications satellites deployed on the mission.

"It's time expansion," Izzo said. "We take very brief intervals of time, magnify time and slow down the action using high-speed equipment called motion analyzers."

Izzo is also known for his high-end photo shoots. "When I do a photo shoot, I try to see the vision in the client's head, and then transfer that image using cameras and lights, plus all the science and engineering, to an image that everyone else can see," he said. "I plan what I need to do to fulfill the client's dream, to make the client's image."

He will go all out - or in - to see what his client sees, once even putting on hip waders for a dip out to the middle of the Goddard pond for a shot. On a high-end photo shoot, he spends about eight hours planning, including possibly a pre-shoot photo session, and about four to six hours shooting. Planning is far more important than shooting, because once he formulates his plan, he just follows it.

Planning comes naturally to Izzo. He is internationally certified by the Project Management Institute as a project management professional and spent his early years as a project manager. While at Goddard, he led a project management study group in which many of the participants passed the PMP exam and earned the same coveted certification.

Moving forward, Izzo will return to project management and his first love, teaching. From 1983-1985, he taught photo lab production technology at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

At one time or another, during 1996-2008, he taught every photography class offered by Prince George's Community College including their premier course in forensic photography for forensic technicians. He also hopes to return to Goddard next spring as part of the Office of Communications' StoryLab lecture series to give a presentation on "Project Management Through a Lens," which will focus on the science and management of high-speed motion projects.


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