On April 23, 2015, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals an all-new underwater photography image editing tools that could be coming to a future version of Photos application.
Apple's Patent Background
In photography, the color of objects in a photographic image is determined by the intrinsic color of the photographed object and the color of the light or lights that illuminated the object. Lights that illuminate an object are tinted by reflecting off of colored items or passing through a medium that filters out other colors. Photographing things underwater usually results in an overall tinted (often bluish or greenish tint) illumination. The amount of light filtered out, and the colors of the light that are filtered out depend on the depth and the contents of the water (e.g., murky, salt, fresh, etc.). Accordingly, objects that are lit by light passing through water appear incorrectly tinted, while the water itself appears correctly tinted (e.g., tinted the color of water).
One type of photographic editing, called "color balancing" or "white balancing" attempts to remove some or all of the effects of the specific light color on the photographed object (e.g., to remove a green or blue tint of a photographed person when the person was illuminated by green or light, such as the light underwater). Various image editing programs apply white balancing techniques to remove the effects of tinted light on an image.
Without applying a color balancing technique, the colors of items in the water (e.g., people's skin) are tinted by the color of the light that filters through the water. However, when previous color balancing techniques are applied to an image taken underwater, or taken of an underwater scene from above the water, the color corrections result in images that do not look as though they were taken underwater. The previous color balancing techniques do not preserve the color of the water.
Apple Invents a Method for Color Balancing Underwater Photography
Apple's invention relates to an image organizing and editing application that receives and edits image data of an underwater scene in a digital image in order to remove undesirable tints from objects in the scene.
In some embodiments, colors near the color of the water itself are protected to leave the water looking blue. Removing undesirable tints without removing the tint of the water itself results in images with more realistic coloring of people and objects in the scene, without eliminating the color cues (e.g., blue water) that indicate that the image is a photograph of an underwater scene.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted below illustrates the color correction of an underwater image by an editing program. Patent FIG. 1 is shown in three stages 101-103. Unfortunately Apple describes editing the colors in an underwater photo in great detail. Yet with the patent images being black and white, it's impossible to follow along Apple's description in this report.
However, we can point out one key aspect of the patent FIG. 1 which describes the interface of an image editing application shown as controls 122 noted in the third figure 103 below in the form of a triangle.
The control includes horizontal arrows #124 and vertical arrows #126. In this stage, the image editing application has adjusted the colors of the original image #110. The control can adjust various elements in the photo including skin tones.
Apple's patent FIG. 12 noted above conceptually illustrates software architecture of part of an image editing application of some embodiments. Apple's patent FIG. 5 conceptually illustrates a process of some embodiments for adjusting the colors of an image.
For photography fans who want to drill down into the finer details of Apple's invention, check out Apple's patent application here.
Apple credits Garrett Johnson, Russell Webb, and Timothy Cherna as the inventors of patent application 20150110396 which was originally filed in Q4 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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