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Algorithms retouch photos before you take them
August 28, 2017, 10:27 am

Mobile phone manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to squeeze better quality images from the tiny sensors on mobile devices. Google, which currently has one of the best phone cameras, uses proprietary software to enhance the quality of images captured by its Pixel branded phones.

The search giant has now teamed up with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to produce algorithms and use machine learning to professionally retouch photos in real time, before you click them.

The researchers used machine learning to create their software, training neural networks on a dataset of 5,000 images created by Adobe and MIT. Each image in this collection has been retouched by five different photographers, and Google and MIT’s algorithms used this data to learn what sort of improvements to make to different photos. This might mean increasing the brightness here, reducing the saturation there, and so on.

Using machine learning to improve photos has been done before, but the real advance with this research is slimming down the algorithms so that they are small and efficient enough to run on a user’s device without any lag. “The software itself is no bigger than a single digital image, and, can process images in a range of styles,” said one researcher.

This means the neural networks could be trained on new sets of images, and could even learn to reproduce an individual photographer’s particular look in the same way companies like Facebook and Prisma have created artistic filters that mimic famous painters.

“This technology has the potential to be very useful for real-time image enhancement on mobile platforms,” said Google researcher Jon Barron. “Using machine learning for computational photography provide us with a way to produce new, compelling, real-time photographic experiences without draining your battery or giving you a laggy viewfinder experience,” he added.

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