These Vivid Photo Filters of the Future Make Instagram Look Like Child's Play

Have you ever found yourself overlooking a stunning vista or landscape, only to find that Instagrams bundle of filters don't do the beautiful scene justice? 

A group of researchers want to change that. A new program developed by computer scientists at Brown University will allow you to change the weather, season, and even time of day in outdoor photographs. Instead of messing with a handful of preset, often over-saturated Instagram filters like Kelvin, Sutro, or Nashville, you can now simply add sun, light and clouds to images with a few simple commands and inject a level of depth to your photos that Instagram simply can't accomplish. 

Want to add a mild drizzle to a rolling forest? Just upload a photo and type "more rain." Want to add some snow to a shot taken in the summer? Input your photo and punch in "more winter." This new (and currently unnammed) program can edit photos according to 40 "commonly changing outdoor attributes."


(Image Credit: Brown University)

"It's been a longstanding interest on mine to make image editing easier for non-experts," said Brown Professor James Hays in an announcement about the program, which will debut at at SIGGRAPH, the world’s premier computer graphics conference, next week. "Programs like Photoshop are really powerful, but you basically need to be an artist to use them. We want anybody to be able to manipulate photographs as easily as you’d manipulate text."


(Image Credit: Brown University)

Hays and his team achieved a stunning level of realism in their app by developing a list of "transient attributes" that users might want to manipulate, from the simple (sunny, rainy and the like) to the relatively subjective (like "gloomy" or "sentimental"). After developing a list of 40 attributes, the researchers compiled a database of more than 8,000 photos taken by cameras around the world. After annotating and tagging their database to reflect the 40 attributes, the researchers fed the photos through a machine learning algorithm.

"Now the computer has data to learn what it means to be sunset or what it means to be summer or what it means to be rainy — or at least what it means to be perceived as being those things,” Hays said. "If you wanted to make a picture rainier, the computer would know that parts of the picture that look like sky need to become grayer and flatter. In regions that look like ground, the colors become shinier and more saturated. It does this for hundreds of different regions in the photo."

Instagram filters have done wonders for opening up the world of photography to thousands of novices armed with mobile phones (much to the chagrin of resturaunters, among others). But amatuers will always have to work within the contraints of Instagrams preset — and now, immediately recognizeable — filters. While this program isn't available for commerical use just yet, Hays and his team hope this new program can give photographers far more control over their work — and, in turn, ensure that each photo you take is a work of art. 

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Jared Keller

Jared Keller is the former director of news at Mic.

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