Digital cameras – how does facial recognition technology work?

The newest trend in digital photography is cameras that automatically take better photos. Manufacturers’ focus is moving away from geeky things like megapixels, to instead embrace practical features that ensure you don’t have to be a professional to take great pictures.

By Helen Bradley

New cameras take the guesswork out of taking a good shot, often by ensuring that people’s faces are in focus and properly exposed. The technology that does this is called “facial recognition” and it’s already available in many point and shoot cameras including those from companies like Canon, Nikon, Casio, Fuji, Panasonic and Pentax.

How it works

Picture this: you’re at the beach and snapping a photo of the kids enjoying the sun. Most cameras will expose for the beach scene behind the kids so when you take the shot, you get a great beach scene and the kids in shadow. A professional photographer would realise they need to use a flash or to adjust the camera to compensate for the light background. The rest of us just want a good photograph – without the fuss.

Cameras equipped with facial recognition go looking for faces, searching out the shape of the human face and finding eyes, nose and mouth. Once the camera identifies a face, it surrounds it with a box on the LCD screen telling you it has identified it. It then makes sure the face is in focus and that the exposure is adjusted to ensure the face is lit correctly, before the shot is taken.

The exact technologies in each camera differ. Some can identify multiple faces – up to ten of them making it easier to capture a good group shot. When you have captured the shot you can flip through and check just the faces that were in the photo. You’ll know immediately if someone had their eyes closed or if one of the kids has made a funny face so you can take another shot.

The face recognition technology in some cameras can even track the person you are photographing. So, once identified, if they move while you are composing the shot, the camera will ensure they remain in focus.

There are a few things facial detection software can’t do and one of these is to distinguish animal faces – yet. Also, because facial recognition technology uses the placement of eyes, nose and mouth to assist identifying what is a face, a person needs to be facing the camera for the technology to ‘see’ them. The technology also works best when you are capturing images in reasonable light conditions.

The future of face recognition

Face recognition is in its infancy so you can expect to see it develop and become smarter with time. Already some manufacturers are developing smile recognition technology so your camera will not only recognise a face, but it won’t take the photo until the person is smiling.

In future your camera may also be able to recognise the people in your photos. It will be possible to track family members to ensure they are in sharp focus, even when photographed amongst strangers.

The future of face recognition technology is not limited to your digital camera. An advertising billboard could make use of this technology to detect a person looking at it. The technology could identify the sex and approximate age of the person and then deliver advertising appropriate to that person’s likely interests. A technology such as this was shown at a recent show in Tokyo.

Source: Australian GO magazine