Apple applies for photo-correcting patent

The application covers technology to use orientation sensors to automatically correct slanted horizons and skewed buildings caused by camera tilt.

Apple's patent includes this illustration of distortion correction. Fig. 7A shows the original image, 7B the corrected version, and 7C the dynamic crop lines that show where the photo was trimmed.
screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple applied for a patent today for technology to use a mobile device's orientation sensors to help correct common photo problems.

One claim in the patent application involves using gyroscopes, compasses, or accelerometers to determine a device's orientation, then using that data to fix problems such as a tilt that would keep a horizontal line from being level.

A related claim involves a correction to distortion that can be caused when a camera isn't held vertically--for example when a view looking up makes the parallel vertical lines of a building converge. Here, a distance measurement to the subject could be factored in, too.

A photo could be corrected either after it was taken or on the fly as it's being taken.

The application is a new twist on hardware fixes for common photography problems. Modern digital cameras can move sensors or lens elements to counteract camera shake, and cameras or comptuer software can correct optical shortcomings of lenses. Start-up Lytro even hopes focusing errors can be avoided with light-field technology that lets people focus shots after they're taken. Smile detection technology can snap a photo only when you see the whites of their teeth, and face detection helps set exposure and focus.

The iPhone 4, with a backside-illumination sensor that's more sensitive than conventional models, is highly regarded as phone cameras go, and it's highly used, too, topping Flickr's camera usage charts. No doubt Apple would like to help its customers avoid those embarrassingly tilted oceans.

Now all we need is technology to ensure camera subjects look as healthy, vivacious, and beautiful as all the people in Apple's promotional illustrations.