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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
From mortal to model
By Rebecca Morelle
BBC News

How did digital enhancement alter my picture?

The camera never lies, or so they say.

But luckily for the less than picture-perfect among us, computer software can.

While digital enhancement has been around for years, subtly airbrushing celebrities and models to make them a bit thinner, less spotty or better endowed, the mere mortal has been resigned to, well, looking like a mere mortal.

But new advances in digital enhancement software may mean dodgy snaps could soon be relegated to the photo album of the past.

Last week, New Scientist magazine reported on new technology that had been developed by scientists at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Presented at this year's Siggraph conference on computer graphics in Boston, the system transforms photographs of faces into more attractive versions of themselves.

The software, developed by Tommer Leyvand, built on work published in 2005.

Hot or not?

Volunteers were asked to rate 200 photographs of men and women in terms of their attractiveness, while computer software analysed the images and calculated distances and ratios between features.

By comparing these factors, the researchers were able to come up with a "beauty function" to measure attractiveness.

The new software applies this algorithm to photographs and gently adjusts features to transform the face into a more attractive version.

And it seems to be working: in a survey of before and after photos, 79% of respondents deemed the morphed face more attractive.

In the UK, London-based company Anthropics Technology Ltd has been working on similar software - this time focusing on "beautifying" pictures of women.

Their system works on two levels, with all aspects user-controlled.

As people enjoy sharing pictures online more and more, the opportunity to enhance them will become more and more popular
Simon Beech, Anthropic

Company spokesman Simon Beech said: "The first level is what we call 'cosmetic enhancement', correcting lighting problems, red-eye, evening out skin tone, and removing wrinkles and signs of ageing."

The next stage, he said, is termed face sculpting, and was developed using university-based research into physiognomy - the relationship between features and what that means - and how people interpret faces and attractiveness psychologically.

"We have taken hundreds and hundreds of pictures, loaded them into a database that has analysed them all, and the computer has come up with an aggregate of what the ideal face looks like.

"The software works by very very gently morphing the subject's face towards that."

The company offers two different downloads, one for professional photographers, costing $79.99 (42) and the other for the amateur snapper, at a price of 15 ($28).

They hope to come up with another version for men in the future.

The company believes the product may draw particular interest from the magazine sector and from professional photographers.

But Simon Beech said he also envisaged the general consumer as a key user-group: "Digital photography has rocketed over the last few years, and there are more people out there sharing and storing more digital images than ever before.

"As people enjoy sharing pictures online more and more, the opportunity to enhance them will become more and more popular."




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