Photographers have many different kinds of software for producing high dynamic range images, but Microsoft Excel probably doesn't make your list of photo editing apps. Well... be prepared to change your mind.

On the off chance you don't know what Microsoft Excel is, it's a spreadsheet application that's primarily used for business application. But in May of last year, Columbia University computer science student Kevin Chen showed that is was also capable of producing an HDR photo using some complicated math and a couple dozen GBs of RAM.

Before coming to Columbia, Chen worked as an intern at Apple, working on camera technology. It was that experience—understanding the math behind digital photography in general and high dynamic range imagery specifically—that allowed him to implement the "system of linear equations" that is typically used in HDR imaging.

After turning the original photo grayscale, and using each cell in Excel as a different "pixel", he was able to implement this math (and zoom way out) to reveal his final product. Here is the color before and grayscale after:

Sure, you probably don't want to make Excel your primary HDR processing software. But Chen's presentation reveals something that is easy to lose sight of when you're processing digital files and working with photographs: as far as your computer is concerned, it's all pixel values and math.

Check out the full presentation up top, and then head over to Chen's website if you want to know more about the young computer scientist.