The data captured by today’s digital cameras is often treated as the raw material of a final image. Before uploading pictures to social networking sites, even casual cellphone photographers might spend a minute or two balancing color and tuning contrast, with one of the many popular image-processing programs now available.
This week at Siggraph, the premier digital graphics conference, researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Google are presenting a new system that can automatically retouch images in the style of a professional photographer. It’s so energy-efficient, however, that it can run on a cellphone, and it’s so fast that it can display retouched images in real-time, so that the photographer can see the final version of the image while still framing the shot.
The same system can also speed up existing image-processing algorithms. In tests involving a new Google algorithm for producing high-dynamic-range images, which capture subtleties of color lost in standard digital images, the new system produced results that were visually indistinguishable from those of the algorithm in about one-tenth the time — again, fast enough for real-time display.
The system is a machine-learning system, meaning that it learns to perform tasks by analyzing training data; in this case, for each new task it learned, it was trained on thousands of pairs of images, raw and retouched.
The work builds on an earlier project from the MIT researchers, in which a cellphone would send a low-resolution version of an image to a web server. The server would send back a “transform recipe” that could be used to retouch the high-resolution version of the image on the phone, reducing bandwidth consumption.
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