Fundamentals Of Image Processing - Online Article


Modern digital technology has made it possible to manipulate multi-dimensional signals with systems that range from simple digital circuits to advanced parallel computers. The goal of this manipulation can be divided into three categories:

  • Image Processing image in -> image out
  • Image Analysis image in -> measurements out
  • Image Understanding image in -> high-level description out

We will focus on the fundamental concepts of image processing. Space does not permit us to make more than a few introductory remarks about image analysis. Image understanding requires an approach that differs fundamentally from the theme of this book. Further, we will restrict ourselves to two-dimensional (2D) image processing although most of the concepts and techniques that are to be described can be extended easily to three or more dimensions. Readers interested in either greater detail than presented here or in other aspects of image processing are referred to.

We begin with certain basic definitions. An image defined in the "real world" is considered to be a function of two real variables, for example, a(x,y) with a as the amplitude (e.g. brightness) of the image at the real coordinate position (x,y). An image may be considered to contain sub-images sometimes referred to as regions-of-interest, ROIs, or simply regions. This concept reflects the fact that images frequently contain collections of objects each of which can be the basis for a region. In a sophisticated image processing system it should be possible to apply specific image processing operations to selected regions. Thus one part of an image (region) might be processed to suppress motion blur while another part might be processed to improve color rendition.

The amplitudes of a given image will almost always be either real numbers or integer numbers. The latter is usually a result of a quantization process that converts a continuous range (say, between 0 and 100%) to a discrete number of levels. In certain image-forming processes, however, the signal may involve photon counting which implies that the amplitude would be inherently quantized. In other image forming procedures, such as magnetic resonance imaging, the direct physical measurement yields a complex number in the form of a real magnitude and a real phase. For the remainder of this book we will consider amplitudes as reals or integers unless otherwise indicated.

Digital Image Definitions

A digital image a[m,n] described in a 2D discrete space is derived from an analog image a(x,y) in a 2D continuous space through a sampling process that is frequently referred to as digitization. The mathematics of that sampling process will be described in Section 5. For now we will look at some basic definitions associated with the digital image. The effect of digitization is shown in Figure 1.

The 2D continuous image a(x,y) is divided into N rows and M columns. The intersection of a row and a column is termed a pixel. The value assigned to the integer coordinates [m,n] with {m=0,1,2,...,M-1} and {n=0,1,2,...,N-1} is a[m,n]. In fact, in most cases a(x,y)--which we might consider to be the physical signal that impinges on the face of a 2D.

Sensor--is actually a function of many variables including depth (z), color (ƛ), and time (t). Unless otherwise stated, we will consider the case of 2D, monochromatic, static images in this chapter.

Figure 1: Digitization of a continuous image. The pixel at coordinates [m=10, n=3] has the integer brightness value 110.

The image shown in Figure 1 has been divided into N = 16 rows and M = 16 columns. The value assigned to every pixel is the average brightness in the pixel rounded to the nearest integer value. The process of representing the amplitude of the 2D signal at a given coordinate as an integer value with L different gray levels is usually referred to as amplitude quantization or simply quantization.

Common Values

There are standard values for the various parameters encountered in digital image processing. These values can be caused by video standards, by algorithmic requirements, or by the desire to keep digital circuitry simple. Table 1 gives some commonly encountered values.

Parameter Symbol Typical values
Rows N 256,512,525,625,1024,1035
Columns M 256,512,768,1024,1320
Gray Levels

Table 1: Common values of digital image parameters

Quite frequently we see cases of M=N=2K where {K = 8,9,10}. This can be motivated by digital circuitry or by the use of certain algorithms such as the (fast) Fourier transform.

The number of distinct gray levels is usually a power of 2, that is, L=2B where B is the number of bits in the binary representation of the brightness levels. When B>1 we speak of a gray-level image; when B=1 we speak of a binary image. In a binary image there are just two gray levels which can be referred to, for example, as "black" and "white" or "0" and "1".

Characteristics of Image Operations

There is a variety of ways to classify and characterize image operations. The reason for doing so is to understand what type of results we might expect to achieve with a given type of operation or what might be the computational burden associated with a given operation.

Types of Operations

he types of operations that can be applied to digital images to transform an input image a[m,n] into an output image b[m,n] (or another representation) can be classified into three categories as shown in Table 2.

Operation Characterization Generic Complexity/Pixel
*Point -the output value at a specific coordinate is dependent only on the input value at that same coordinate. constant
*Local -the output value at a specific coordinate is dependent on the input values in the neighborhood of that same coordinate. P2
*Global -the output value at a specific coordinate is dependent on all the values in the input image. N2

Table 2: Types of image operations. Image size = N x N; neighborhood size = P x P. Note that the complexity is specified in operations per pixel.

This is shown graphically in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Illustration of various types of image operations

Types of Neighborhoods

Neighborhood operations play a key role in modern digital image processing. It is therefore important to understand how images can be sampled and how that relates to the various neighborhoods that can be used to process an image.

* Rectangular Sampling - In most cases, images are sampled by laying a rectangular grid over an image as illustrated in Figure 1. This results in the type of sampling shown in Figure 3ab.

* Hexagonal Sampling - An alternative sampling scheme is shown in Figure 3c and is termed hexagonal sampling.

Both sampling schemes have been studied extensively and both represent a possible periodic tiling of the continuous image space. We will restrict our attention, however, to only rectangular sampling as it remains, due to hardware and software considerations, the method of choice.

Local operations produce an output pixel value b[m=mo,n=no] based upon the pixel values in the neighborhood of a[m=mo,n=no]. Some of the most common neighborhoods are the 4-connected neighborhood and the 8-connected neighborhood in the case of rectangular sampling and the 6-connected neighborhood in the case of hexagonal sampling illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3a Figure 3b Figure 3c: Rectangular sampling, Rectangular sampling, Hexagonal sampling, 4-connected, 8-connected, 6-connected

Video Parameters

We do not propose to describe the processing of dynamically changing images in this introduction. It is appropriate--given that many static images are derived from video cameras and frame grabbers-- to mention the standards that are associated with the three standard video schemes that are currently in worldwide use - NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. This information is summarized in Table 3.


images/second 29.97 25 25
ms/image 33.37 40.0 40.0
lines/image 525 625 625
(horiz./vert.) = aspect ratio 4:3 4:3 4:3
interlace 2:1 2:1 2:1
us/line 63.56 64.00 64.00

Table 3: Standard video parameters

In an interlaced image the odd numbered lines (1,3,5,...) are scanned in half of the allotted time (e.g. 20 ms in PAL) and the even numbered lines (2,4,6,...) are scanned in the remaining half. The image display must be coordinated with this scanning format. (See Section 8.2.) The reason for interlacing the scan lines of a video image is to reduce the perception of flicker in a displayed image. If one is planning to use images that have been scanned from an interlaced video source, it is important to know if the two half-images have been appropriately "shuffled" by the digitization hardware or if that should be implemented in software. Further, the analysis of moving objects requires special care with interlaced video to avoid "zigzag" edges.

The number of rows (N) from a video source generally corresponds one-to-one with lines in the video image. The number of columns, however, depends on the nature of the electronics that is used to digitize the image. Different frame grabbers for the same video camera might produce M = 384, 512, or 768 columns (pixels) per line.

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