Hackneyed or amazing? Online system rates photos by artistic quality


Think you have some amazing photos? A new photo-rating system purports to determine the aesthetic value of an image might think otherwise.  

The system -- Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine (ACQUINE) -- extracts and uses visual aspects such as color saturation, color distribution and photo composition to give any uploaded image a rating from zero to 100. The system learns to associate these aspects with the way humans rate photos based on thousands of previously-rated photographs in online photo-sharing Web sites such as photo.net, according to James Wang, associate professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State who co-developed the system with other professors Ritendra Datta and Jia Li.

There are opportunities to link the rating system directly to cameras so that when a photo is taken, the photographer can instantly see how it might be perceived by the public, Wang said. Aesthetics represents just one dimension of human emotion. Future systems will perhaps strive to capture other emotions that pictures arouse in people, Wang said.

Users can upload their own images for rating or test the system by providing a link to any image online. The system provides an aesthetic rating within seconds. When you upload a picture to the site you get back this type of information:


1 = Ugly; 7 = Beautiful.

Reasons for a rating closer to 7:

looks good

attracts/holds attention

interesting composition

great use of color

(if photojournalism) drama, humor, impact

(if sports) peak moment, struggle of athlete


1 = Hackneyed/Boring; 7 = Amazingly Unusual.

It is original if you haven't seen anything like it before or if you wouldn't have thought of this approach to the subject.

In a white paper on ACQUINE, the researchers acknowledge the difficulty faced in developing a system that is measuring the highly subjective area of aesthetics:

Aesthetics in photography is how people usually characterize beauty in this form of art. There are various ways in which aesthetics is defined by different people. There exists no single consensus on what it exactly pertains to.

The broad idea is that photographic images that are pleasing to the eyes are considered to be higher in terms of their aesthetic beauty. While the average individual may simply be interested in how soothing a picture is to the eyes, a photographic artist may be looking at the composition of the picture, the use of colors and light, and any additional meanings conveyed by the picture.

A professional photographer, on the other hand, may be wondering how difficult it may have been to take or to process a particular shot, the sharpness and the color contrast of the picture, or whether the "rules of thumb" in photography have been maintained. All these issues make the measurement of aesthetics in pictures or photographs extremely subjective.


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