Researchers Create Algorithm That Can Erase Water From Underwater Photos

Sea-Thru Underwater Photography AI

Underwater photography is captivating not only for the world it reveals but the particular quality of its colors. Tinged in blue and green hues, the murky tone of photos taken underwater can be fascinating, but what would life down below look like if we could see it in true color (without the marine filter)? Now, thanks to researchers from MIT and the University of Haifa, the underwater environment can be viewed with the same coloration we have above ground.

By digitally removing water from photographs, engineers are revolutionizing underwater imaging.  Sea-Thru is the name of this special technology, which uses an algorithm to erase the water and recover colors that are normally lost. Why is this so important? If you've ever tried to take a photograph with an underwater camera, you've seen just how difficult it can be. The way that light is absorbed in water and scatters about causes imaging that is often dim and completely overtaken by blue tones. For scientists, this can make it difficult to distinguish different species present in a still frame, making their work more time consuming.

Sea-Thru is innovative in that it removes the color cast and backscatter that cause these issues. What we're then left with is a crisp, colorful image that is more akin to a traditional landscape photo. The sample images published in the researchers' study speak for themselves. Overwhelmingly blue photographs are suddenly filled with different tones and life underwater takes on new meaning.

Sea-Thru Underwater Photography AI

GIF: Scientific American

Engineer and oceanographer Derya Akkaynak and her postdoctoral adviser, engineer Tali Treibitz, spent four years working to improve the program. This meant that Akkaynak spent a lot of time underwater, taking photographs to train the program. She took over 1,000 images in two different bodies of water, placing a color chart in each photograph. These pictures taught the program how to compensate for how light is both scattered and absorbed in water.

While the technology is new, there is already buzz about it in the scientific community. As opposed to using Photoshop, which simply increases reds and yellows to compensate for the color differential, Sea-Thru focuses on real-life accuracy. “What I like about this approach is that it's really about obtaining true colors,” says Pim Bongaerts, a coral biologist at the California Academy of Sciences. “Getting true color could really help us get a lot more worth out of our current data sets.”

Sea-Thru is a technology that uses an algorithm to transform murky underwater photographs…

Sea-Thru Underwater Photography AI

…into crisp, colorful images with true colors.

Sea-Thru Underwater Photography AI

Learn more about how engineers developed the technology.

h/t: [Peta Pixel, Scientific American]

All images via Derya Akkaynak.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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