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Image Filtering

A comprehensive tutorial towards 2D convolution and image filtering (The first step to understand Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs)).


Convolution is one of the most important operations in signal and image processing. It could operate in 1D (e.g. speech processing), 2D (e.g. image processing) or 3D (video processing). Here, we will discuss convolution in 2D spatial which is mostly used in image processing for feature extraction and is also the core block of Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs). Generally, we can consider an image as a matrix whose elements are numbers between 0 and 255. The size of this matrix is (image height) x (image width) x (image channels). A grayscale image has 1 channel where a color image has 3 channels (for an RGB).


We can load and plot the image using opencv library in python:

import cv2
def load_image(image_path):
    Load the image using opencv
    :param image_path: <String> Path of input_image
    coloured_image = cv2.imread(image_path)
    grey_image = cv2.cvtColor(coloured_image, cv2.COLOR_BGR2GRAY)
    print('image matrix size: ', grey_image.shape)
    print('\n First 5 columns and rows of the image matrix: \n', grey_image[:5, :5])
    cv2.imwrite('TopLeft5x5.jpg', grey_image[:5, :5])
    return grey_image

input_image = load_image('input_image.jpg')



Each convolution operation has a kernel which could be a any matrix smaller than the original image in height and width. Each kernel is useful for a specific task, such as sharpening, blurring, edge detection, and more. Let's start with the sharpening kernel which is defined in [Types of Kernel](

As previously mentioned, each kernel has a specific task to do and the sharpen kernel accentuate edges but with the cost of adding noise to those area of the image which colors are changing gradually. The output of image convolution is calculated as follows:

  1. Flip the kernel both horizontally and vertically. As our selected kernel is symmetric, the flipped kernel is equal to the original.
  2. Put the first element of the kernel at every pixel of the image (element of the image matrix). Then each element of the kernel will stand on top of an element of the image matrix. figure3
  3. Multiply each element of the kernel with its corresponding element of the image matrix (the one which is overlapped with it)
  4. Sum up all product outputs and put the result at the same position in the output matrix as the center of kernel in image matrix. figure4
  5. For the pixels on the border of image matrix, some elements of the kernel might stands out of the image matrix and therefore does not have any corresponding element from the image matrix. In this case, we can eliminate the convolution operation for these position which end up an output matrix smaller than the input (image matrix) or we can apply padding to the input matrix (based on the size of the kernel we might need one or more pixels padding, in our example we just need 1 pixel padding): figure5

As you can see in Figure 5, the output of convolution might violate the input range of [0-255]. Even though the python packages would take care of it by considering the maximum value of the image as the pure white (correspond to 255 in [0-255] scale) and the minimum value as the pure black (correspond to 0 in [0-255] scale), the values of the convolution output (filtered image) specially along the edges of the image (which are calculated based on the added zero padding) can cause a low contrast filtered image. Here, to overcome this loss of contrast issue, we can use Histogram Equalization technique. However, we might be able to end up with a better contrast neglecting the zero padding. The following python code convolves an image with the sharpen kernel and plots the result:

def convolve2d(image, kernel):
    This function which takes an image and a kernel and returns the convolution of them.

    :param image: a numpy array of size [image_height, image_width].
    :param kernel: a numpy array of size [kernel_height, kernel_width].
    :return: a numpy array of size [image_height, image_width] (convolution output).
    # Flip the kernel
    kernel = np.flipud(np.fliplr(kernel))
    # convolution output
    output = np.zeros_like(image)

    # Add zero padding to the input image
    image_padded = np.zeros((image.shape[0] + 2, image.shape[1] + 2))
    image_padded[1:-1, 1:-1] = image

    # Loop over every pixel of the image
    for x in range(image.shape[1]):
        for y in range(image.shape[0]):
            # element-wise multiplication of the kernel and the image
            output[y, x]=(kernel * image_padded[y: y+3, x: x+3]).sum()

    return output

# kernel to be used to get sharpened image
KERNEL = np.array([[0, -1, 0], [-1, 5, -1], [0, -1, 0]])
image_sharpen = convolve2d(input_image, kernel=KERNEL)
cv2.imwrite('sharpened_image.jpg', image_sharpen)

and you can see the filtered image after applying sharpen filter below: sharpened_image

More Filters

Edge Detection

There are many other filters which are really useful in image processing and computer vision. One of the most important one is edge detection. Edge detection aims to identify pixels of an image at which the brightness changes drastically. Let's apply one of the simplest edge detection filters to our image and see the result.

# kernel to be used for edge detection
image_edge1 = convolve2d(input_image,
                         kernel=np.array([[-1, -1, -1], [-1, 4, -1],[-1, -1, -1]]))
cv2.imwrite('edge_detection1.jpg', image_edge1)

image_edge2 = convolve2d(input_image,
                         kernel=np.array([[-1, 0, 1], [0, 0, 0], [1, 0, -1]]))
cv2.imwrite('edge_detection2.jpg', image_edge2)

edge_detection1 edge_detection2

Blur the Image

Box Blur

Now it iss time to apply a filter to the noisy image and reduce the noise. Blur filter could be a smart choice:

# kernel to be used for box blur
imageboxblur = convolve2d(input_image,
                         kernel=np.array([[1, 1, 1], [1, 1, 1], [1, 1, 1]])/9.0)
cv2.imwrite('box_blur.jpg', imageboxblur)

# kernel to be used for gaussian blur
imagegaussianblur = convolve2d(input_image,
                         kernel=np.array([[1, 2, 1], [2, 4, 2], [1, 2, 1]])/16.0)
cv2.imwrite('gaussian_blur.jpg', imagegaussianblur)

box_blur gaussian_blur


used simple opencv and numpy to check convolution operation on a Greyscale Image






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