Handling images deftly using Keras’ Image Data Generator

Original article was published by Pooja Ravi on Deep Learning on Medium

Handling images deftly using Keras’ Image Data Generator

Load and augment image data effortlessly

Photo by Safar Safarov on Unsplash

Data augmentation is a very useful part of building a machine learning model, specifically with respect to image data. Augmented images (zoomed/rotated/flipped), many a time, increase a given model’s performance and accuracy by helping it generalize better. Techniques like data augmentation, rescaling or resizing etc., are often used and can change the way in which our model learns the features of the input images while training.

Image data generator is a magical functionality from python’s deep learning API, Keras. Since it is a pretty underrated and misunderstood functionality in terms of its applications and usage, I’d like to walk you all through the process of using it to manipulate your image datasets and augment pictures.

Let’s first clear a common misconception regarding the image data generator; though the term data augmentation is always used while referring to the Image data generator function, it actually doesn’t involve “creating” or adding extra images to the dataset.

Instead, it replaces the original training images with augmented versions of the same, while the model is trained on them. During each epoch, variations of the original image are passed through the layers of the model.

Image obtained from PyImageSearch

In this blog, we’ll be using the Image Data Generator functionality from Keras to handle our input data and finally build a CNN model. We will see how it does literally everything for us in a few lines of code and minimizes the complexity of accessing our data.

We will be working with the food image classification dataset from Kaggle which can be found here. It contains 3 folders, namely – training, validation and evaluation/testing, each of which contains images of food and non-food items.

Let’s now look at 3 different images from both food and non-food folders. We will use some of the features provided by the image data generator function on one of these images to visualize the augmentations.

Images of food items
Images of non-food items

Let’s begin augmenting

The Image Data Generator uses various augmentation techniques to modify our input images, by providing parameters that we can tweak. Some of the significant parameters that we can tweak, have been listed below:

  1. Rotations and zoom: Used to rotate our image by any angle between 0° and 360°. When this is performed, the pixels along the edge of the part of the image that gets rotated, will disappear and the image gets tilted. The zoom feature is used for zooming into the image, as the name suggests.
  2. Horizontal or vertical flips: Self-explanatory, flipping actions to tilt the images horizontally or vertically. They can be set to ‘True’ or ‘False’.
  3. The fill_mode parameter can be set to fill in the empty pixels which were left behind due to rotation or flipping actions. The empty pixels can be filled with either ‘constant’, ‘nearest’, ‘reflect’ or ‘wrap’ options.
  4. The rescale option helps us rescale or normalize an image’s pixels from a range of 0–255 to values between 0.0 and 1.0 . This is because, any RGB image (red, green or blue) is usually 8 bits and thus is limited to a range of 0-255.
  5. Height and width shift: These 2 parameters contribute to the vertical or horizontal shifting of the image. Note: setting these parameters to true will only shift them in the X-Y plane.

Code for creating and visualizing the augmentations on one image is given below:

The datagen.flow() method in the code block above, takes in an image and generates batches of augmentations on it. Note that I have tweaked only certain parameters namely, horizontal flip, zoom range and the rotation range, for this demo. The result of this can be seen in the images displayed below.

Original image:

Original image

After using the Image data generator:

Augmented images

The augmented images are obviously different from the original version. Also, as you can see, the distortion in the edges of the pictures is due to the fill_mode parameter being set to the nearest configuration. The pictures above are variations of the same picture and this means that during each epoch, one of these distorted or augmented images will be sent through each layer of our neural network instead of the original image.

Consequently, the model receives different versions of the original image, each differing in rotation angle, zoom, etc during each iteration.

This also prevents overfitting as the model is trained on different versions of the image every time it is passed through different layers of the model.

Train and Validation/Test sets

Now let’s go ahead and create our data generator variable for the training, validation and test sets of the food image classification dataset.

In case we don’t have a separate folder for validation/testing data, a parameter called validation_split, while creating the data generator variable, can be set to a value between 0.1 and 1.0 (ideally < 0.5). After creating the train_set variable, a separate validation_set or test_set variable must be created with subset parameter set to ‘validation’. But in our case, since we have 3 separate folders for training, validation and testing purposes, we won’t require a validation split.

Also, note that only the training images can contain augmentations and not the images used for validation/testing. So we add flips, zoom and rotations to the training data whereas we simply rescale the validation and testing data.

The output to the block of code given above:

Found 3000 images belonging to 2 classes.

Found 1000 images belonging to 2 classes

Found 1000 images belonging to 2 classes.

The 3000, 1000 and 1000 images belong to the train_set, val_set and test_set respectively. So, if you had realized, we didn’t have any labels for the images; we only had them stored in sub-directories (folders). So how did the image data generator function categorize the images into 2 different classes i.e. food and non-food?

Loading the images from their respective sub directories

Notice that, here we are using the datagen.flow_from_directory() method instead of datagen.flow(). This directly takes the path to our folder containing the images as the input and retrieves images from the path (folders) given. It then returns a directory iterator of the form (x,y) where x is a numpy array of batches of augmented images and y is a numpy array of the respective labels.

Since we set the class_mode parameter to ‘binary’, the datagen (image data generator variable), while retrieving images from each folder, automatically labels them into food and non-food classes depending on which folders they were stored in. Also, the food and non-food categories are automatically one hot encoded to 1’s and 0’s for our convenience. We can see that food items have been set to 0 and non-food items have been set to 1.

Thus, the class mode, when set to binary, ensures that the encoded labels exist in a 1D array as 1’s and 0’s. It can be set to ‘categorical’ in case the number of classes is more than 2 and the labels will be stored in a 2D array. It can also be set to ‘sparse’ and the labels will be stored in a 1D array as integer labels.

The image data generator also supports flow_from_dataframe() method which takes a pandas data frame as the input or a path to a directory containing the data frame and similarly, generates batches of data.

So now, the image data generator basically did the entire categorization, augmentation, rescaling and one hot encoding of labels in a few lines of code each, for training and validation/testing purposes. How cool is that?

You can find the documentation for the image data generator here.

The model

A convolutional neural network is used extensively in image-related deep learning tasks. We shall also employ a simple CNN model to deal with our dataset. We can go ahead with model creation. We will be using a 3 layer convolutional neural network. The code for the model architecture is given below:

I will briefly explain the model architecture; the model consists of 3 Conv2D layers, employing ReLU activation function with batch normalization, MaxPooling2D and dropout regularization. These layers are passed on to 2 fully connected dense layers of 256 and 512 units each, which are further connected to an output layer with 1 unit and a sigmoid activation function for classifying the inputs into food(0) and non-food(1) items. The ReduceLROnPlateau callback tool is used to reduce the learning rate each time a metric (validation accuracy, in our case) stops improving.

The model, compiled using the ‘adam’ optimizer, was trained for 10 epochs with a batch size of 64. The loss was measured using ‘binary_crossentropy’ and the train_set (training directory) was passed as the input to the model.fit_generator() method. Code block for fitting the model is given below:

The model.fit_generator() is specifically used for fitting a model to the training directory iterators with augmented batches of data. We’d need to pass train_set as the input, since it contains both images and labels. We can set the number of epochs, validation data, callbacks and other parameters according to our preferences.

Model evaluation

The model gave out a validation accuracy of 83.4%. Further, the model was evaluated on the test set using model.evaluate_generator() and it churned out a testing accuracy of 81.7% . This implies that our model is now ready for making predictions. This can be done using model.predict_generator() method.


In this blog we covered the major aspects involved in handling image data entirely using Keras’ image data generator, to build a model for classifying images into the food and non-food categories. Our model can now make predictions on real world input data as well. Thus, we successfully created and evaluated a CNN model entirely using the image data generator functionality to load, modify, rescale and augment our images.