Faces as Lighting Probes via Unsupervised Deep Highlight Extraction
We present a method for estimating detailed scene illumination using human faces in a single image. In contrast to previous works that estimate lighting in terms of low-order basis functions or distant point lights, our technique estimates illumination at a higher precision in the form of a non-parametric environment map. Based on the observation that faces can exhibit strong highlight reflections from a broad range of lighting directions, we propose a deep neural network for extracting highlights from faces, and then trace these reflections back to the scene to acquire the environment map. Since real training data for highlight extraction is very limited, we introduce an unsupervised scheme for finetuning the network on real images, based on the consistent diffuse chromaticity of a given face seen in multiple real images. In tracing the estimated highlights to the environment, we reduce the blurring effect of skin reflectance on reflected light through a deconvolution determined by prior knowledge on face material properties. Comparisons to previous techniques for highlight extraction and illumination estimation show the state-of-the-art performance of this approach on a variety of indoor and outdoor scenes.
Keywords:Illumination estimation, unsupervised learning
Spicing up selfies by inserting virtual hats, sunglasses or toys has become easy to do with mobile augmented reality (AR) apps like Snapchat . But while the entertainment value of mobile AR is evident, it is just as clear to see that the generated results are usually far from realistic. A major reason is that virtual objects are typically not rendered under the same illumination conditions as in the imaged scene, which leads to inconsistency in appearance between the object and its background. For high photorealism in AR, it is thus necessary to estimate the illumination in the image, and then use this estimate to render the inserted object compatibly with its surroundings.
Illumination estimation from a single image is a challenging problem because lighting is intertwined with geometry and reflectance in the appearance of a scene. To make this problem more manageable, most methods assume the geometry and/or reflectance to be known [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. Such knowledge is generally unavailable in practice; however, there exist priors about the geometry and reflectance properties of human faces that have been exploited for illumination estimation [10, 11, 12, 13]. Faces are a common occurrence in photographs and are the focus of many mobile AR applications. The previous works on face-based illumination estimation consider reflections to be diffuse and estimate only the low-frequency component of the environment lighting, as diffuse reflectance acts as a low-pass filter on the reflected illumination . However, a low-frequency lighting estimate often does not provide the level of detail needed to accurately depict virtual objects, especially those with shiny surfaces.
In addressing this problem, we consider the parallels between human faces and mirrored spheres, which are conventionally used as lighting probes for acquiring ground truth illumination. What makes a mirrored sphere ideal for illumination recovery is its perfectly sharp specular reflections over a full range of known surface normals. Rays can be traced from the camera’s sensor to the sphere and then to the surrounding environment to obtain a complete environment map that includes lighting from all directions and over all frequencies, subject to camera resolution. We observe that faces share these favorable properties to a large degree. They produce fairly sharp specular reflections (highlights) over its surface because of the oil content in skin. Moreover, faces cover a broad range of surface normals, and there exist various methods for recovering face geometry from a single image [14, 10, 15, 13, 16]. Unlike mirrored spheres, the specular reflections of faces are not perfectly sharp and are mixed with diffuse reflection. In this paper, we propose a method for dealing with these differences to facilitate the use of faces as lighting probes.
We first present a deep neural network for separating specular highlights from diffuse reflections in face images. The main challenge in this task is the lack of ground truth separation data on real face images for use in network training. Although ground truth separations can be generated synthetically using graphics models , it has become known that the mismatch between real and synthetic data can lead to significant reductions in performance . We deal with this issue by pretraining our network with synthetic images and then finetuning the network using an unsupervised strategy with real photos. Since there is little real image data on ground truth separations, we instead take advantage of the property that the diffuse chromaticity values over a given person’s face are relatively unchanged from image to image, aside from a global color rescaling due to different illumination colors and sensor attributes. From this property, we show that the diffuse chromaticity of multiple aligned images of the same face should form a low-rank matrix. We utilize this low-rank feature in place of ground truth separations to finetune the network using multiple real images of the same face, downloaded from the MS-celeb-1M database . This unsupervised finetuning is shown to significantly improve highlight separation over the use of supervised learning on synthetic images alone.
With the extracted specular highlights, we then recover the environment illumination. This recovery is inspired by the frequency domain analysis of reflectance in , which concludes that reflected light is a convolved version of the environment map. Thus, we estimate illumination through a deconvolution of the specular reflection, in which the deconvolution kernel is determined from prior knowledge of face material properties. This approach enables recovery of higher-frequency details in the environment lighting.
This method is validated through experimental comparisons to previous techniques for highlight extraction and illumination estimation. On highlight extraction, our method is shown to produce results that more closely match the ground truth acquired by cross-polarization. For illumination estimation, greater precision is obtained over a variety of both indoor and outdoor scenes. We additionally show that the 3D positions of local point lights can be estimated using this method, by triangulating the light source positions from the environment maps of multiple faces in an image. With this 3D lighting information, the spatially variant illumination throughout a scene can be obtained. Recovering the detailed illumination in a scene not only benefits AR applications but also can promote scene understanding in general.
2 Related work
Highlight extraction involves separating the diffuse and specular reflection components in an image. This problem is most commonly addressed by removing highlights with the help of chromatic [21, 22, 23, 24] as well as spatial [25, 26, 27] information from neighboring image areas, and then subtracting the resulting diffuse image from the original input to obtain the highlight component. These techniques are limited in the types of surface textures that can be handled, and they assume that the illumination color is uniform or known.
In recent work , these restrictions are avoided for the case of human faces by utilizing additional constraints derived from physical and statistical face priors. Our work also focuses on human faces but employs a deep learning approach instead of a physics-based solution for highlight extraction. While methods developed from physical models have a tangible basis, they might not account for all factors that influence image appearance, and analytical models often provide only a simplified approximation of natural mechanisms. In this work, we show that directly learning from real image data can lead to improved results that additionally surpass deep learning on synthetic training data .
Illumination estimation is often performed from a single image, as this is the only input available in many applications. The majority of single-image methods assume known geometry in the scene and estimate illumination from shading [3, 4, 6, 7] and shadows [2, 5, 6, 29, 8]. Some methods do not require geometry to be known in advance, but instead they infer this information from the image by employing priors on object geometry  or by fitting shape models for faces [10, 11, 12, 13]. Our work also makes use of statistical face models to obtain geometric information for illumination estimation.
An illumination environment can be arbitrarily complex, and nearly all previous works employ a simplified parametric representation as a practical approximation. Earlier techniques mainly estimate lighting as a small set of distant point light sources [2, 4, 5, 6, 8]. More recently, denser representations in the form of low-order spherical harmonics [3, 10, 11, 12, 30, 13] and Haar wavelets  have been recovered. The relatively small number of parameters in these models simplifies optimization but provides limited precision in the estimated lighting. A more detailed lighting representation may nevertheless be infeasible to recover from shading and shadows because of the lowpass filtering effect of diffuse reflectance  and the decreased visibility of shadow variations under extended lighting.
Greater precision has been obtained by utilizing lighting models specific to a certain type of scene. For outdoor environments, sky and sun models have been used for accurate recovery of illumination [31, 32, 33]. In research concurrent to ours, indoor illumination is predicted using a convolutional neural network trained on data from indoor environment maps . Similar to our work, it estimates a non-parametric representation of the lighting environment with the help of deep learning. Our approach differs in that it uses human faces to determine the environment map, and employs deep learning to recover an intermediate quantity, namely highlight reflections, from which the lighting can be analytically solved. Though our method has the added requirement of having a face in the image, it is not limited to indoor scenes and it takes advantage of more direct evidence about the lighting environment. We later show that this more direct evidence can lead to higher precision in environment map estimates.
Highlight reflections have been used together with diffuse shading to jointly estimate non-parametric lighting and an object’s reflectance distribution function . In that work, priors on real-world reflectance and illumination are utilized as constraints to improve inference in an optimization-based approach. The method employs an object with known geometry, uniform color, and a shiny surface as a probe for the illumination. By contrast, our work uses arbitrary faces, which are a common occurrence in natural scenes. As shown later, the optimization-based approach can be sensitive to the complications presented by faces, such as surface texture, inexact geometry estimation, and spatially-variant reflectance. Our method reliably extracts a key component of illumination estimation – highlight reflections – despite these obstacles by using a proposed deep learning scheme.
As shown in Figure 1, we train a deep neural network called Highlight-Net to extract the highlight component from a face image. This network is trained in two phases. First, pretraining is performed with synthetic data (Section 4.1). Subsequently, the network is finetuned in an unsupervised manner with real images from a celebrity dataset (Section 4.2).
For testing, the network takes an input image and estimates its highlight layer. Together with reconstructed facial geometry, the extracted highlights are used to obtain an initial environment map, by tracing the highlight reflections back towards the scene. This initial map is blurred due to the band-limiting effects of surface reflectance . To mitigate this blur, our method performs deconvolution on the environment map using kernels determined from facial reflectance statistics (Section 5).
4 Face highlight removal
4.1 Pretraining with synthetic data
For Highlight-Net, we adopt a network structure used previously for intrinsic image decomposition , a related image separation task. To pretrain this network, we render synthetic data using generic face models  and real indoor and outdoor HDR environment maps collected from the Internet. Details on data preparation are presented in Section 6.1. With synthetic ground truth specular images, we minimize the L2 loss between the predicted and ground truth highlights for pretraining.
4.2 Unsupervised finetuning on real images
With only pretraining on synthetic data, Highlight-Net performs inadequately on real images. This may be attributed to the limited variation of face shapes, textures, and environment maps in the synthetic data, as well as the gap in appearance between synthetic and real face images. Since producing a large-scale collection of real ground-truth highlight separation data is impractical, we present an unsupervised strategy for finetuning Highlight-Net that only requires real images of faces under varying illumination environments.
This strategy is based on the observation that the diffuse chromaticity over a given person’s face should be consistent in different images, regardless of illumination changes, because a person’s facial surface features should remain the same. Among images of the same face, the diffuse chromaticity map should differ only by global scaling factors determined by illumination color and sensor attributes, which we correct in a preprocessing step. Thus, a matrix constructed by stacking the aligned diffuse chromaticity maps of a person should be of low rank. In place of ground-truth highlight layers of real face images, we use this low-rank property of ground-truth diffuse layers to finetune our Highlight-Net.
This finetuning is implemented using the network structure shown in Figure 2 (a), where Highlight-Net is augmented with a low-rank loss. The images for training are taken from the MS-celeb-1M database , which contains 100 images for each of 100,000 celebrities. After some preprocessing described in Section 6.1, we have a set of aligned frontal face images under a consistent illumination color for each celebrity.
From this dataset, four face images of the same celebrity are randomly selected for each batch. A batch is fed into Highlight-Net to produce the estimated highlight layers for the four images. These highlight layers are subtracted from the original images to obtain the corresponding diffuse layers. For a diffuse layer , its diffuse chromaticity map is computed per-pixel as
where , , and denote the color channels. Each diffuse chromaticity map is then reshaped into a vector , and the vectors of the four images are stacked into a matrix . With a low-rank loss enforced on , Highlight-Net is finetuned through backpropagation.
Since the diffuse chromaticity of a face should be consistent among images, the rank of matrix should ideally be one. So we define the low-rank loss as its second singular value:
During backpropagation, the partial derivative of with respect to each matrix element is evaluated according to :
5 Illumination estimation
5.1 Environment map initialization
The specular reflections of a mirror are ideal for illumination estimation, because the observed highlights can be exactly traced back to the environment map when surface normals are known. This exact tracing is possible because a highlight reflection is directed along a single reflection direction that mirrors the incident lighting direction about the surface normal , as shown on the left side of Figure 3. This raytracing approach is widely used to capture environment maps with mirrored spheres in computer graphics applications.
For the specular reflections of a rough surface like human skin, the light energy is instead tightly distributed around the mirror reflection direction, as illustrated on the right side of Figure 3. This specular lobe can be approximated by the specular term of the Phong model  as
where denotes the specular albedo, is the viewing direction, and represents the surface roughness. We specifically choose to use the Phong model to take advantage of statistics that have been compiled for it, as described later.
As rigorously derived in , reflection can be expressed as the environment map convolved with the surface BRDF (bidirectional reflectance distribution function), e.g., the model in Equation 4. Therefore, if we trace the highlight component of a face back toward the scene, we obtain a convolved version of the environment map, where the convolution kernel is determined by the specular reflectance lobe. With surface normals computed using a single-image face reconstruction algorithm , our method performs this tracing to recover an initial environment map, such as that exhibited in Figure 4 (a).
Due to limited image resolution, the surface normals on a face are sparsely sampled, and an environment map obtained by directly tracing the highlight component would be sparse as well, as shown in Figure 4 (a). To avoid this problem, we employ inverse image warping where for each pixel in the environment map, trace back to the face to get its corresponding normal and use the available face normals nearest to to interpolate a highlight value of . In this way, we avoid the holes and overlaps caused by directly tracing (i.e., forward warping) highlights to the environment map. The result of this inverse warping is illustrated in Figure 4 (b).
5.2 Deconvolution by the specular lobe
Next, we use the specular lobe to deconvolve the filtered environment map. This deconvolution is applied in the spherical domain, rather than in the spatial domain parameterized by latitude and longitude which would introduce geometric distortions.
Consider the deconvolution kernel centered at a point on the environment map. At a nearby point , the value of is
where and are 3D unit vectors that point from the sphere center toward x and y, respectively. The terms and denote the surface roughness and specular albedo at x.
To determine and for each pixel in the environment map, we use statistics from the MERL/ETH Skin Reflectance Database . In these statistics, faces are categorized by skin type, and every face is divided into ten regions, each with its own mean specular albedo and roughness because of differences in skin properties, e.g., the forehead and nose being relatively more oily.
Using the mean albedo and roughness value of each face region for the face’s skin type
5.3 Rescaling illumination color
The brightness of highlight reflections often leads to saturated pixels, which have color values clipped at the maximum image intensity. As a result, the highlight intensity in these color channels may be underestimated. This problem is illustrated in Figure 5, where the predicted highlight layer appears blue because the light energy in the red and green channels is not fully recorded in the input image.
To address this issue, we take advantage of diffuse shading, which is generally free of saturation and indicative of illumination color.
Diffuse reflection (i.e., the diffuse layer) is the product of albedo and diffuse shading, and the diffuse shading can be extracted from the diffuse layer through intrinsic image decomposition. To accomplish this decomposition, we finetune the intrinsic image network from  using synthetic face images to improve the network’s effectiveness on faces. Specifically, 10,000 face images were synthesized from 50 face shapes randomly generated using the Basel Face Model , three different skin tones, diffuse reflectance, and environment maps randomly selected from 100 indoor and 100 outdoor real HDR environment maps. Adding this Albedo-Shading Net to our system as shown in Figure 2 (b) yields a highlight layer, albedo layer, and diffuse shading layer from an input face.
With the diffuse shading layer, we recolor the highlight layer extracted via Highlight-Net by rescaling its channels. When the blue channel is not saturated, its value is correct and the other channels are rescaled relative to it as
where is the diffuse shading chromaticity. Rescaling can similarly be solved from the red or green channels if they are unsaturated. If all channels are saturated, we use the blue channel as it is likely to be the least underestimated based on common colors of illumination and skin. After recoloring the highlight layer, we compute its corresponding environment map following the procedure in Sections 5.1-5.2 to produce the final result, such as shown in Figure 4 (d).
5.4 Triangulating lights from multiple faces
In a scene where the light sources are nearby, the incoming light distribution can vary significantly at different locations. An advantage of our non-parametric illumination model is that when there are multiple faces in an image, we can recover this spatially variant illumination by inferring the environment map at each face and using them to triangulate the 3D light source positions.
As a simple scheme to demonstrate this idea, we first use a generic 3D face model (e.g., the Basel Face Model ) to solve for the 3D positions of each face in the camera’s coordinate system, by matching 3D landmarks on the face model to 2D landmarks in the image using the method of . Highlight-Net is then utilized to acquire the environment map at each of the faces. In the environment maps, strong light sources are detected as local maxima found through non-maximum suppression. To build correspondences among the lights detected from different faces, we first match them according to their colors. When there are multiple lights of the same color, their correspondence is determined by triangulating different combinations between two faces, with verification using a third face. In this way, the 3D light source positions can be recovered.
6.1 Training data
For the pretraining of Highlight-Net, we use the Basel Face Model  to randomly generate 50 3D faces. For each face shape, we adjust the texture map to simulate three different skin tones. These 150 faces are then rendered under 200 different HDR environment maps, including 100 from indoor scenes and 100 from outdoor scenes. The diffuse and specular components are rendered separately, where a spatially uniform specular albedo is randomly generated between . For training, we preprocessed each rendering by subtracting the mean image value and then normalizing to the range [0,1].
In finetuning Highlight-Net, the image set for each celebrity undergoes a series of commonly-used preprocessing steps so that the faces are aligned, frontal, radiometrically calibrated, and under a consistent illumination color. For face frontalization, we apply the method in . We then identify facial landmarks  to crop and align these frontal faces. The cropped images are radiometrically calibrated by the method in , and their color histograms are matched by the built-in histogram transfer function in MATLAB  to reduce illumination color differences. We note that in each celebrity’s set, images were manually removed if the face exhibits a strong expression or multiple lighting colors, since these cases often lead to inaccurate spatial alignment or poor illumination color matching.
6.2 Evaluation of highlight removal
To examine highlight extraction performance, we compare our highlight removal results to those of several previous techniques [21, 17, 23, 45, 28] in Figure 6. The first two rows show results on faces with known ground truth captured by cross-polarization under an indoor directional light. In order to show fair comparisons for both absolute intensity errors and structural similarities, we use both RMSE and SSIM as error/similarity metrics. The last two rows are qualitative comparisons on natural outdoor and indoor illuminations, where ground truth is unavailable due to the difficulty of cross-polarization in general settings. In all of these examples, our method outperforms the previous techniques, which generally have difficulty in dealing with the saturated pixels that commonly appear in highlight regions. We note that since most previous techniques are based on color analysis and the dichromatic reflection model , they cannot process grayscale images, unlike our CNN-based method. The figure also illustrates the importance of training on real image data. Comparing our finetuning-based method in (c) to our method without finetuning in (d) and a CNN-based method trained on synthetic data  in (e) shows that training only on synthetic data is insufficient, and that our unsupervised approach for finetuning on real images substantially elevates the quality of highlight separation.
|Synthetic data||Real data|
|Diffuse Bunny||Glossy Bunny|
6.3 Evaluation of illumination estimation
Following , we evaluate illumination estimation by examining the relighting errors of a Stanford bunny under predicted environment maps and the ground truth. The lighting estimation is performed on synthetic faces rendered into captured outdoor and indoor scenes and their recorded HDR environment maps. Results are computed for both a diffuse and a glossy Stanford bunny. The comparison methods include the following: our implementation of  which uses a face to recover spherical harmonics (SH) lighting up to second order under the assumption that the face is diffuse; downloaded code for  which estimates illumination and reflectance given known surface normals that we estimate using ; online demo code for  which is designed for outdoor images; and author-provided results for  which is intended for indoor images.
The relighting errors are presented in Figure 8 and Table 2. Except for  and , the errors were computed for 500 environment maps estimated from five synthetic faces under 100 real HDR environment maps (50 indoor and 50 outdoor). Since  and  are respectively for outdoor and indoor scenes and are not trained on faces, their results are each computed from LDR crops from the center of the 50 indoor/outdoor environment maps. We found  and  to be generally less precise in estimating light source directions, especially when light sources are out-of-view in the input crops, but they still provide reasonable approximations. For , the estimates of high frequency lighting become less precise when the indoor environment is more complicated. The experiments indicate that  may be relatively sensitive to surface textures and imprecise geometry in comparison to our method, which is purposely designed to deal with faces. For the Spherical Harmonics representation , estimates of a low-order SH model are seen to lack detail, and the estimated face albedo incorporates the illumination color, which leads to environment maps that are mostly white. Overall, the results indicate that our method provides the closest estimates to the ground truth.
We additionally conducted comparisons on virtual object insertion using estimated illumination, as shown in Figure 9. To aid in verification, we also show images that contain the actual physical object (an Android robot). In some cases such as the bottom of (c), lighting from the side is estimated as coming from farther behind, resulting in a shadowed appearance.
6.4 Demonstration of light source triangulation
Using the simple scheme described in Section 5.4, we demonstrate the triangulation of two local light sources from an image with three faces, shown in Figure 10 (a). The estimated environment maps from the three faces are shown in Figure 10 (b). We triangulate the point lights from two of them, while using the third for validation. In order to provide a quantitative evaluation, we use the DSO SLAM system  to reconstruct the scene, including the faces and light sources. We manually mark the reconstructed faces and light sources in the 3D point clouds as ground truth. As shown in Figure 10 (c-d), the results of our method are close to this ground truth. The position errors are 0.19m, 0.44m and 0.29m for the faces from left to right, and 0.41m and 0.51m for the two lamps respectively. If the ground truth face positions are used, the position errors of the lamps are reduced to 0.20m and 0.49m, respectively.
We proposed a system for non-parametric illumination estimation based on an unsupervised finetuning approach for extracting highlight reflections from faces. In future work, we plan to examine more sophisticated schemes for recovering spatially variant illumination from the environment maps of multiple faces in an image. Using faces as lighting probes provides us with a better understanding of the surrounding environment not viewed by the camera, which can benefit a variety of vision applications.
- Skin type is determined by the closest mean albedo to the mean value of the face’s albedo layer. Extraction of the face’s albedo layer is described in Sec. 5.3.
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