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Photobombs are unavoidable. Sometimes it’s a random passerby furiously ducking out of the way or a dog jumping in front of the camera trying to get in the shot.

To help get rid of annoying distractions after a photo has been taken, scientists from Adobe and Princeton University created a platform that automatically removes stray elements in photos.


Defusing Photobombs with Algorithms

The first obstacle that developers had to overcome was teaching the platform to detect the right elements for removal. To achieve this, algorithms scan the unedited sample for inconsistencies, such as a change in tone or lighting. Naturally, the complex method is very meticulous. With hopes to increase success rates, scientists went through roughly 1,073 images from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system to better understand the process.

“We have a specific car detector in the code because people often want to eliminate cars that wander into the frame,” Ohad Fried, one of the study authors, said in a press release. “We have a face detector. If the face is large and in the center of the photo, we probably don’t want to remove it. But if it is coming in from the side, it might be a photobomb.”

Next, the group carefully sifted through 5,000 photos that were manipulated using the Fixel app, an experimental smartphone platform from Adobe labs. Researchers compared the before and after samples, took notes of elements that users considered essential and identified the types of editing jobs that were applied.

Based on the results of the painstaking study, scientists developed a working detector. So far, the platform has been very successful in removing cars, random signs and soda cans.


Making Casual Photos More Appealing

Researchers still have to iron out the kinks before the feature makes an appearance in mobile apps. An extra step for verification should prevent frustrated users from editing out important elements. Because of this, Fried confirmed that the platform isn’t ready for an official launch just yet. But eventually, it could be added as an option in digital photo platforms, like Adobe.

The editing software brand could benefit from an “auto-remove” function in the future, as it struggles to meet the expectations of savvy smartphone users. More and more people are relying on handheld editing services that allow them to make quick updates to a photo (that was probably taken using a mobile device). After an on-the-fly editing boost, most users proceed to share directly from smartphones to social media or private message.

These days, casual photos are rarely pushed to desktops, an area that Adobe has dominated for decades. In the past five years, the photo-taking process has evolved to start with the phone and end with the phone.

“For most casual photographers, this effort is neither possible nor warranted,” wrote the researchers.

“Last year Facebook reported that people were uploading photos at an average rate of 4,000 images per second. The overwhelming majority of these pictures are casual — they effectively chronicle a moment without much work on the part of the photographer.”

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