Histograms and Histogram based image enhancement

Software Methodologies

What is a histogram?

Histogram Function
A function defined over all possible intensity levels. For each intensity level, its value is equal to the number of pixels with that intensity

Constructing a histogram

Simply count occurrences of each intensity value

Constructing a histogram:

initialise all histogram array entries to 0
for each pixel I(i,j) within the image I
    histogram(I(i,j)) = histogram(I(i,j)) +1

Contrast stretch/normalisation

Operation: Stretches the pixel range over a larger dynamic range

Approach: use four intensity values

  1. upper pixel quantisation limit

  2. lower pixel quantisation limit

  3. maximum pixel value present

  4. minimum pixel value present


Potential problem - outliers in the image

  • Possible that $c\sim a$ and $d\sim b$ (or even $c=a$ and $d=b$)

  • Result: contrast stretch has no effect on the image


Use a robust against outliers method to select c and d, instead of the min and max values in the image

Method 1

  • Select c and d at fixed percentile points of the histogram distribution

  • If any of new intensity values are below b or above a, map them to b and a respectively

Method 2

  • Find the most frequent image value (histogram peak)

  • Select a cut-off as a percentage of the peak

  • Scan down from peak in either direction until last values above cut-off are reached and select these as c and d

  • If any of new intensity values below b or above a, map them to b and a respectively

Method 2 is marginally weaker for complex, multi-peak histograms

Histogram modelling

Histogram modelling
Modify an image so that its histogram conforms to a given shape
Histogram Equalisation
Histogram modelling via an intensity transformation function aiming at producing an output image with uniform histogram distribution

Cumulative histogram function

Let the dynamic range of a grayscale image be


For a histogram function $h(i)$ we construct the cumulative histogram function $C(i)$


That is, the values of $C(i)$ record the sum of the occurrence of each grey level up to and including i

$C(i)$ is a monotonically increasing function

Histogram equalisation

In an ideally equalised image, all intensity values would appear the same number of times, i.e. N/L each, where N is the number of pixels in the image

The cumulative function would then be


Histogram equalisation corresponds to the intensity transform


Which computes the cumulative histogram at intensity i, and maps i to the intensity of the ideally equalised image for that value of the cumulative histogram

A schematic example of how histogram equalisation works:

  • Let L = 100 (dynamic range of 100 levels)

  • Let $C(50) = 0.8\cdot N$ (80% of the N pixels have value 50 or lower)

  • $t(50)=(L/N)\cdot 0.8\cdot N = 100 \cdot 0.8 = 80$

  • 50 is mapped 80 and this, 80% of the pixel of the equalised image have value 80 or lower


Technical issues requiring attention in practice:

  • a dynamic range with L levels usually consists of the values $i=0,1,..,L-1$

  • L/N might not be an integer, thus some of the values of t() might not be integers

As a solution we can instead use the formula

$$t(i)=\lfloor ((L-1)/N)\cdot C_{input}(i) \rfloor$$


As a fully automated technique (no parameters) the effect of histogram equalisation is highly input dependant

In some image the global contrast can be over-exposed or under-exposed


Use the histogram from (a well balanced) sub-part of original image as the input histogram of the equalisation algorithm

Localised histogram equalisation

Split the image into a set of discrete, non-overlapping neighbourhoods of size $N\times N$

Histogram equalisation of each neighbourhood in isolation (tiling)

Adaptive histogram equalisation

Perform histogram equalisation at each pixel (rather than neighbourhood) using overlapping local $N\times N$ neighbourhoods

Adaptive histogram equalisation is slower than localised histogram equalisation

Tiling artefacts can be avoided but choice of neighbourhood size N crucial

Localised/adaptive equalisation

In terms of the aesthetics of the output, performance is poor because a global transform (of the entire dynamic range) is computed and applied locally