Image processing and computer vision
with scikit-image

Neurohackademy 2018

Michael Beyeler / @mbeyelerCH
Postdoctoral Fellow
eScience Institute
Institute for Neuroengineering (UWIN)

Today's Agenda

1 Introduction
2 The scikit-image toolkit
How are images represented in scientific computing?
3 Feature detection
How can we detect useful features from an image?
4 Image segmentation
How can we segment an MRI image into different sections?

What is computer vision?

An interdisciplinary field that deals with gaining high-level understanding from digital images or videos.

Computer vision tasks include methods for acquiring, processing, and analyzing digital images.

Image processing vs Computer vision

  • Image processing:
    • [IMG IN] ⇒ [IMG OUT]
    • filtering, denoising, etc.
  • Computer vision:
    • [IMG IN] ⇒ [DESC OUT]
    • feature extraction, segmentation, recognition, etc.

What is image data?

For our purposes: multi-dimensional homogeneous data in which spatial relationships matter

- spatial contiguity is meaningful

- usually 3D images or 2D projections

Image processing in medical image analysis

Color deconvolution for immunohistochemical staining

Image registration

Find the coordinate transform between two independent images

3D reconstruction

Reconstruct 3D white matter tracts from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)

Intraretinal fluid segmenter

Deep learning based segmentation of edema for optical coherence tomography (OCT) images of the retina

scikit-image is a collection of Python algorithms for image processing, developed by the SciPy community.

Installation via conda:

$ conda install scikit-image

More info at

API reference

The main package of skimage only provides some utility functions - everything else is in submodules:

Submodule Description
data test images and example data
io reading, saving, displaying images and videos
color color space conversion
filters sharpening, edge finding, rank filters, thresholding

API reference

Submodule Description
measure measuring image properties (e.g., similarity, contours)
feature feature detection and extraction
restoration restoration algorithms (e.g., deconvolution denoising)
segmentation partitioning an image into multiple regions

Images are NumPy arrays

Pixels are array elements:

 import numpy as np
 image = np.ones((5, 5))
 image[0, 0] = 0
 image[2, :] = 0
Values 0 - 255: 0 is black, 255 is white (uint8)
Values 0.0 - 1.0: 0.0 is black, 1.0 is white (float64)

Image I/O

from skimage import io
img_rgb = io.imread(path_to_rgb_file)
img_gray = io.imread(path_to_rgb_file, as_grey=True)

img = np.random.rand((500, 500))
io.imsave("noise.jpg", img)
Note: Since scikit-image operates on NumPy array, any image reader library that provides arrays will do (e.g., imageio, matplotlib, pillow).


It's easy to draw on images, too.

skimage.draw.line Generate line pixel coordinates Generate coordinates of pixels within a circle
skimage.draw.polygon Generate coordinates of pixels within a polygon
skimage.draw.random_shapes Generate an image with random shapes, labeled with bounding boxes

Tutorial 1: Image manipulation


$ git clone

(adapted from /skimage-tutorials/lectures/00_images_are_arrays.ipynb)

Image filters

One of the most basic and common image operations - used to remove noise or enhance features.

skimage.filters.gaussian Multi-dimensional Gaussian filter
skimage.filters.sobel Find the edge magnitude using the Sobel transform
skimage.filters.median Return local median of an image
skimage.filters.gabor Returns real and imaginary responses to Gabor filter

Gaussian filter

Used to smooth images Similar to mean filter, but doesn't weight all values in the neighborhood equally (pixels closer to the center are weighted more). The standard deviation sigma defines the size of the neighborhood.

from skimage import data, filters
img =
img_blurred = filters.gaussian_filter(img, sigma=5)

Sobel filter

A discrete differential operator used to emphasize edges in an image. The image is convolved with a small, separable, integer-valued filter in the horizontal and vertical directions.

from skimage import data, filters
img =
img_edges = filters.sobel(img)

Median filter

A nonlinear digital filtering technique often used to remove noise from an image

from skimage import io, filters, morphology
img = io.imread("teddy.jpg")
img_blurred = filters.median_filter(img
(can also be used to generate a fun cartoon effect)

Feature detection

Methods for computing abstractions of image information

Edges points where there is a boundary between two image regions
Corners point-like features with 2D structure
Blobs regions of interest
At every point of an image, ask: is a feature of a given type present or not?

Canny edge detection

  1. Apply a Gaussian filter to smooth the image and remove noise
  2. Find the intensity gradients
  3. Apply nonmaximum suppression to get rid of spurious responses to edge detection
  4. Apply double threshold do termine potential edges
  5. Track edge by hysteresis: finalize edge detection by suppressing weak edges

Hough transform

used to detect lines, circles or other parametric curves

The locus of (a, b) points in parameter space fall on a circle with radius R centered at (x, y). The true center point will be common to all parameter circles, and can be found with a Hough accumulation array.

Haar wavelets

sum up intensities in small rectangles, calculate the difference between the sums

Many more algorithms...

skimage.feature.corner_harris Harris corner measure
skimage.feature.hog Histogram of oriented gradients (HOG)
skimage.feature.ORB Oriented FAST and rotated BRIEF feature detector

Tutorial 2: Feature detection


(adapted from skimage-tutorials/lectures/2_feature_detection.ipynb)

Image segmentation

Supervised: some prior knowledge is used to guide the algorithm.

Unsupervised: no prior knowledge given.


Thresholding is used to create a binary image from a grayscale image.

Otsu's method calculates an "optimal" threshold that maximizes the variance between two classes of pixels.

Random walker segmentation

Anisotropic diffusion with tracers initiated at the markers' position

Local diffusivity coefficient is greater if neighboring pixels have similar values, so that diffusion is difficult across high gradients Markers label different phases, like below (too noisy for thresholding).

Watershed segmentation

Starting from user-defined markers, watershed treats pixel values as a local topography, then floods basins from the markers.

Markers are often chosen as local minima of the image, from which basins are flooded.

Simple linear iterative clustering (SLIC)

A spatially localized version of k-means clustering.

Pixels are represented in 5D (x, y, L, a, b) using the CIELAB color space. k-means: Given a set of k cluster centers, assign each pixel to the nearest one. Update the new cluster centers to be the means of the pixel centroids in the cluster. Repeat until convergence.

Many more algorithms...

skimage.segmentation.quickshift Similar to SLIC: hierarchical segmentation in 5D space
skimage.segmentation.chan_vese Designed to segment objects without clearly defined boundaries
skimage.segmentation.felzenszwalb Spanning tree based clustering
skimage.future.graph Region adjacency graph (RAG) based graph cuts

Tutorial 3: Image segmentation


(adapted from skimage-tutorials/lectures/4_segmentation.ipynb)