Classifying Images of Hand Signs

Defining a Convolutional Network and Loading Image Data

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This post follows the main post announcing the CS230 Project Code Examples and the PyTorch Introduction. In this post, we go through an example from Computer Vision, in which we learn how to load images of hand signs and classify them.

This tutorial is among a series explaining the code examples:

Goals of this tutorial

  • learn how to use PyTorch to load image data efficiently
  • specify a convolutional neural network
  • understand the key aspects of the code well-enough to modify it to suit your needs

Problem Setup

We use images from’s SIGNS dataset that you have used in one of Course 2’s programming assignment. Each image from this dataset is a picture of a hand making a sign that represents a number between 1 and 6. It is 1080 training images and 120 test images. In our example, we use images scaled down to size 64x64.

Making a PyTorch Dataset provides some nifty functionality for loading data. We use, which is an abstract class representing a dataset. To make our own SIGNSDataset class, we need to inherit the Dataset class and override the following methods:

  • __len__: so that len(dataset) returns the size of the dataset
  • __getitem__: to support indexing using dataset[i] to get the ith image

We then define our class as below:

from PIL import Image
from import Dataset, DataLoader

class SIGNSDataset(Dataset):
    def __init__(self, data_dir, transform):      
        #store filenames
        self.filenames = os.listdir(data_dir)
        self.filenames = [os.path.join(data_dir, f) for f in self.filenames]

    #the first character of the filename contains the label
    self.labels = [int(filename.split('/')[-1][0]) for filename in self.filenames]
    self.transform = transform

def __len__(self):
    #return size of dataset
    return len(self.filenames)

def __getitem__(self, idx):
    #open image, apply transforms and return with label
    image =[idx])  # PIL image
    image = self.transform(image)
    return image, self.labels[idx]

Notice that when we return an image-label pair using __getitem__ we apply a tranform on the image. These transformations are a part of the torchvision.transforms package, that allow us to manipulate images easily. Consider the following composition of multiple transforms:

train_transformer = transforms.Compose([
    transforms.Resize(64),              # resize the image to 64x64 
    transforms.RandomHorizontalFlip(),  # randomly flip image horizontally
    transforms.ToTensor()])             # transform it into a PyTorch Tensor

When we apply self.transform(image) in __getitem__, we pass it through the above transformations before using it as a training example. The final output is a PyTorch Tensor. To augment the dataset during training, we also use the RandomHorizontalFlip transform when loading the image. We can specify a similar eval_transformer for evaluation without the random flip. To load a Dataset object for the different splits of our data, we simply use:

train_dataset = SIGNSDataset(train_data_path, train_transformer)
val_dataset = SIGNSDataset(val_data_path, eval_transformer)
test_dataset = SIGNSDataset(test_data_path, eval_transformer)

Loading Batches of Data provides an iterator that takes in a Dataset object and performs batching, shuffling and loading of the data. This is crucial when images are big in size and take time to load. In such a case, the GPU can be left idling while the CPU fetches the images from file and then applies the transforms. In contrast, the DataLoader class (using multiprocessing) fetches the data asynchronously and prefetches batches to be sent to the GPU. Initialising the DataLoader is quite easy:

train_dataloader = DataLoader(SIGNSDataset(train_data_path, train_transformer), 
                   batch_size=hyperparams.batch_size, shuffle=True,

We can then iterate through batches of examples as follows:

for train_batch, labels_batch in train_dataloader:
    # wrap Tensors in Variables
    train_batch, labels_batch = Variable(train_batch), Variable(labels_batch)

    # pass through model, perform backpropagation and updates
    output_batch = model(train_batch)

Applying transformations on the data loads them as PyTorch Tensors. We wrap them in PyTorch Variables before passing them into the model. The for loop ends after one pass over the data, i.e. after one epoch. It can be reused again for another epoch without any changes. We can use similar data loaders for validation and test data.

Convolutional Network Model

Now that we have figured out how to load our images, let’s have a look at the pièce de résistance- the CNN model. As mentioned in the previous post, we first define the components of our model, followed by its functional form. Let’s have a look at the __init__ function for our model that takes in a 3x64x64 image:

import torch.nn as nn
import torch.nn.functional as F

class Net(nn.Module):
    def __init__(self):
        #we define convolutional layers 
        self.conv1 = nn.Conv2d(in_channels = 3, out_channels = 32, kernel_size = 3, strid = 1, padding = 1)
        self.bn1 = nn.BatchNorm2d(32)
        self.conv2 = nn.Conv2d(in_channels = 32, out_channels = 64, kernel_size = 3, stride = 1, padding = 1)
        self.bn2 = nn.BatchNorm2d(64)
        self.conv3 = nn.Conv2d(in_channels = 64, in_channels = 128, kernel_size = 3, stride  1, padding = 1)
        self.bn3 = nn.BatchNorm2d(128)

    #2 fully connected layers to transform the output of the convolution layers to the final output
    self.fc1 = nn.Linear(in_features = 8*8*128, out_features = 128)
    self.fcbn1 = nn.BatchNorm1d(128)
    self.fc2 = nn.Linear(in_features = 128, out_features = 6)       
    self.dropout_rate = hyperparams.dropout_rate

The first parameter to the convolutional filter nn.Conv2d is the number of input channels, the second is the number of output channels, and the third is the size of the square filter (3x3 in this case). Similarly, the batch normalisation layer takes as input the number of channels for 2D images and the number of features in the 1D case. The fully connected Linear layers take the input and output dimensions.

In this example, we explicitly specify each of the values. In order to make the initialisation of the model more flexible, you can pass in parameters such as image size to the __init__ function and use that to specify the sizes. You must be very careful when specifying parameter dimensions, since mismatches will lead to errors in the forward propagation. Let’s now look at the forward propagation:

def forward(self, s):
    #we apply the convolution layers, followed by batch normalisation, 
    #maxpool and relu x 3
    s = self.bn1(self.conv1(s))        # batch_size x 32 x 64 x 64
    s = F.relu(F.max_pool2d(s, 2))     # batch_size x 32 x 32 x 32
    s = self.bn2(self.conv2(s))        # batch_size x 64 x 32 x 32
    s = F.relu(F.max_pool2d(s, 2))     # batch_size x 64 x 16 x 16
    s = self.bn3(self.conv3(s))        # batch_size x 128 x 16 x 16
    s = F.relu(F.max_pool2d(s, 2))     # batch_size x 128 x 8 x 8

    #flatten the output for each image
    s = s.view(-1, 8*8*128)  # batch_size x 8*8*128

    #apply 2 fully connected layers with dropout
    s = F.dropout(F.relu(self.fcbn1(self.fc1(s))), 
    p=self.dropout_rate,    # batch_size x 128
    s = self.fc2(s)                                     # batch_size x 6

    return F.log_softmax(s, dim=1)

We pass the image through 3 layers of conv > bn > max_pool > relu, followed by flattening the image and then applying 2 fully connected layers. In flattening the output of the convolution layers to a single vector per image, we use s.view(-1, 8*8*128). Here the size -1 is implicitly inferred from the other dimension (batch size in this case). The output is a log_softmax over the 6 labels for each example in the batch. We use log_softmax since it is numerically more stable than first taking the softmax and then the log.

And that’s it! We use an appropriate loss function (Negative Loss Likelihood, since the output is already softmax-ed and log-ed) and train the model as discussed in the previous post. Remember, you can set a breakpoint using pdb.set_trace() at any place in the forward function, examine the dimensions of the Variables, tinker around and diagnose what’s going wrong. That’s the beauty of PyTorch :).


That concludes the description of the PyTorch Vision code example. You can proceed to the NLP example to understand how we load data and define models for text.