The Fourier Spectrum Of An Image

Decomposing An Image Into Frequencies

The Fourier transform is a useful tool to disassemble a signal into its component frequencies. Amongst others it has applications in signal processing, quantum mechanics an even in Bioinformatics for the fast calculation of multiple alignments(10.1093/nar/gkf436).
So it’s no wonder, that it is also used in image processing. It is e.g. often used for the design of filters and for image convolutions in general, as it makes it possible to calculate those pretty fast. It can furthermore be used for the elimination of regular noise in images. But those are both topics for another time.

Today I will show you how to calculate the Fourier spectrum of an image, which is in any case useful to visualize what the Fourier transformation actually does. And you can also use it to investigate repeating features in your image. And from there it’s just one step further for using it for denoising an image.

How To Calculate It

I won’t got much into the theoretical background here right now, but I will give you the means to calculate it. If you want to get more intuition how the formulas for the Fourier transform are derived, I recommend you watching the following video of 3Brown1Blue.
To understand this part you should also at least know a little bit about the concept of imaginary numbers. But maybe I’ll do a quick tutorial in them at some point later. Just let me know, if you’d like to see that.

So what we actually need is the two dimensional discrete Fourier transformation, because pictures of course are two dimensional. Instead of discrete Fourier transformations there are also continuous ones, which can be applied to continuous functions.
So let me just give you the equations:

\(\hat{f}(p,q) = \frac{1}{\sqrt{n \cdot m}} \cdot \sum_{m = 0}^{M – 1}\sum_{n = 0}^{N – 1}f(n,m) \cdot e^{-\frac{i \cdot 2 \cdot \pi \cdot p \cdot m}{M}} \cdot e^{-\frac{i \cdot 2 \cdot \pi \cdot q \cdot n}{N}}\)

In this case N is the number of rows in the image and M the number of columns. The image itself is represented as the two dimensional function \(f(n, m)\) and \(\hat{f}(p,q)\) is the Fourier transformed image, where p and q are the new variables for indicating row and columns. And \(i\) is the imaginary unit. It’s a solution to the equation \(x^2 = -1\), which cannot be solved by any real number.

Now the value of each pixel is a complex number. Do you have any idea how we could visualize this in a sensible manner? Well… Complex numbers are basically just coordinates in a two dimensional space. So we could just take their absolute distance to the origin point in their coordinate system. Applying this to every pixel gives us the so-called Fourier spectrum of an image.

In the next parts I will step by step show you how to implement all of this and do some improvements on it. Luckily for us we don’t need to implement the Fourier transform ourselves. In R it is already contained in the form of the fft function and many other programming languages provide you with high performing implementations of it. Even though implementing the Fourier transform itself isn’t that big of a deal, performance could be. But maybe I’ll do some home-grown implementation of it at a later point in time.

Some Helper Functions

First we’ll need some helper functions. I was thinking about giving some of them their own blog post. But then again they’re not that interesting, so they would warrant that. We will also use some helper functions developed in my last post.

To make our life easier, a min and max function for images for be a nice, returning us the min and max grey-values of an image. The implementation is straight forward:

min.imageOneChannel <- function(object, na.rm = FALSE){
    return(min(object@imageMatrix, na.rm = na.rm))
max.imageOneChannel <- function(object, na.rm = FALSE){
    return(max(object@imageMatrix, na.rm = na.rm))

Next I’ll introduce the first of many point operations. Point operations change the value of one pixel independent of neighboring pixels. As the Fourier spectrum of an image might have values below zero or above one at certain pixels, we will need to rescale it so that it is inside the boundaries again. We can to this by with the following function:

affineRescale <- function(img){
    a <- max(img) - min(img)
    b <- min(img) / a

    return(affineGreyscaleTransformation(img = img, 1.0/a, -b))

After applying this function the minimal value will be equal to zero and the maximal equal to one and all other values will be scaled between them.

The Fourier Spectrum

So let’s implement the calculation of the Fourier spectrum of an image. You’ll see, that it is pretty straight-forward…

calculateFourierSpectrum <- function(img){

    imgFTrans <- fft(img@imageMatrix)

    ## calculate the eiclidean norm of the complex coordinates
    fourierSpectrum <- new("imageOneChannel", 
                           imageMatrix = sqrt(Re(imgFTrans) ^ 2 + 
                                              Im(imgFTrans) ^ 2))


Basically just two/three (depending on if you count the return) lines of code and the nice thing about the native fft function in R, is that it keeps the dimensions of the matrix.

Now let’s load our today’s image

fence <- imageOneChannelFromJpeg("Fence.jpg")
Picture of a fence in Camphausen, Saarland.

It’s a fence, which has a lot of repeating structures. So it should give us some interesting result.

fftImg <- affineRescale(calculateFourierSpectrum(fence))
writeJPEG.imageOneChannel(fftImg, "fft1.jpg")
Fourier speactrum image transformation after affine rescaling

Huh?! What’s that? Nothing? Well, you can see a bit in the corners, but not much.

The Fourier Spectrum Scaled With The Logarithm

To make the spectrum better visible, we need to rescale it in a different manner. You remember, that the equation for the Fourier transform contains the exponent function? So what would probably be sensible would be to take the logarithm to rescale the image. But remember… The logarithm for smaller or equal to zero is not defined. So it’s a good idea to add a one before scaling with the logarithm. The log1p function in R will already do this for us.

logarithmicDynamicCompression <- function(img, c = NULL){
        c <- 1 / log1p(max(img@imageMatrix))

    return(new("imageOneChannel", imageMatrix = c * log1p(img@imageMatrix)))

So let’s try it again.

fftImg <- logarithmicDynamicCompression(calculateFourierSpectrum(fence))
writeJPEG.imageOneChannel(fftImg, "fft2.jpg")
Fourier speactrum image after logarithmic rescaling

Now that’s the Fourier spectrum of the fence. But there’s something not so nice about it. The origin of the spectrum is not in the middle, but on the borders. This is a certain property of the discrete form of the Fourier transformation. In the continuous one the origin lies in the middle.

Shifting The Fourier Spectrum Of An Image

But lucky for us there’s a quick fix for this minor problem. We just need to multiply the image with an image of the same size first. This second image contains one and minus ones arranged in a checkerboard like pattern. I won’t show you here, why this is so… But the Fourier transformation has many neat properties you can use, so that I’ll probably do a post about them in the future too.

For creating the checkerboard sign matrix I use data.table magic. Also probably doing a post or more posts about this awesome data structure in the future, as it makes of the life of a data scientist much easier.

calculateFourierSpectrum <- function(img){

    ## generate checkerboard sign imageMatrix to shift it in the fourier domain
    DT <- CJ(1:nrow(img@imageMatrix), 1:ncol(img@imageMatrix))
    DT[, sign := (-1)^(V1 + V2)]
    shiftMatrix <- new("imageOneChannel", imageMatrix = as.matrix(dcast(DT, V1 ~ V2, value.var = "sign")[,-1]))

    shiftedImg <- img * shiftMatrix

    imgFTrans <- fft(shiftedImg@imageMatrix)

    ## calculate the eiclidean norm
    fourierSpectrum <- new("imageOneChannel", 
                           imageMatrix = sqrt(Re(imgFTrans)^2 + Im(imgFTrans)^2))


Finally it’s time to also test that!

fftImg <- logarithmicDynamicCompression(calculateFourierSpectrum(fence))
writeJPEG.imageOneChannel(fftImg, "fft3.jpg")
Fourier speactrum image after logarithmic rescaling and shifting

And voila! Now I’m satisfied. 🙂
By the way the Fourier transform flips the direction of patterns. So the big vertical stripe could be the horizon. But it could also be a boundary artifacts… Something I’ll show you in more detail later. And also how to fix it.
All the stripes in the others direction represent frequencies across the picture. And what’s nice… You can change features of the image here in the Fourier space and then just as easily back-transform it.

You’ll definitely hear more from Fourier transformations from me. I hope you enjoyed this post. I’d love to hear from you.

Availability Of The Code

You can access a maintained form of the code in my GitHub repository Raspository under R/imageOneChannel, R/imagePointOperations and R/imageFeatures.

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