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Harris Corner Detector: How to find key-points in pictures

Harris Corner Detector is a popular computer vision algorithm used to detect key points in images and video. Corners are important features of the image, as they provide useful information for detecting objects and scenes.

Common applications

Key points extraction is a common image analysis task where Harris operator fits well. The algorithm is robust and is accurate in distinguishing edges and corners.

Some common uses of it are:

  • Image classification
  • Objects recognition
  • Objects tracking in video sequence
  • Image alignment and stitching for panoramic image creation
Тhe recognized key points as a result of Harris corners detection

How does Harris Corner Detector works?

Corners are regions located between two dominant image edges with different direction. This means that at such points there will be large variations in intensity in many directions.

Harris puts this fact into action so that his operator finds significant changes in image gradient for a local area (window). The basic principle is that it calculates the difference in the displacement of the kernel in all directions.

When the window is above a linear gradient segment, changes in direction will reduce the result. Otherwise, when the window is over a corner, movements in each direction will increase the intensity change.

Gradient Corners Info
Harris mask scheme over line and corner

Basically the Harris corner detector algorithm will have the following steps:

  • Edge detection – for image derivatives calculation it is appropriate to use Sobel edge detector
  • Image smoothing – frequently this step uses Gaussian or Mean filters
  • Harris measure computation
  • Non-maximum suppression
  • Feature points thresholding

Harris response calculation

A movable image patch at position (x, y) shifts with defined offset (dx,dy):

Harris Corner Detector Matrix

The Harris corner score is used to determine if the current position contains a corner or not:

$\displaystyle{R}= \det{{\left({M}\right)}}-{k}\cdot{\left({t}{r}{a}{c}{e}{\left({M}\right)}\right)}^{2}=\lambda_{{1}}\lambda_{{2}}-{k}{\left(\lambda_{{1}}+\lambda_{{2}}\right)}^{2}$
Harris corner score

Matrix trace calculation

In linear algebra the det(M) stands for a square matrix determinant. To calculate determinant of 2×2 matrix use the following eqution:

Matrix determinant
Calculation of 2×2 matrix determinant

Matrix trace calculation

In linear algebra the trace(M) of a square matrix is the total sum of the main diagonal. To calculate the trace of the Harris matrix use the following equation:

Harris matrix trace
Trace of 2×2 matrix

Harris result image map

Finally, the algorithm creates a gray-scale map image where the bright areas are the corners.

Harris corners result
Harris corners map

Source Code

The proposed algorithm uses OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL) to provide parallel execution and good performance.

Derivatives calculation

First of all we calculate image gradients in horizontal and vertical direction. As a result our algorithm stores the derivatives as in below snippet.

float dx = length((GET_PIXEL(-1, -1)*u_kernel[0] +
			GET_PIXEL(-1,  0)*u_kernel[1] +
			GET_PIXEL(-1, +1)*u_kernel[2]) -
		   (GET_PIXEL(+1, -1)*u_kernel[0] +
			GET_PIXEL(+1,  0)*u_kernel[1] +
			GET_PIXEL(+1, +1)*u_kernel[2]));
float dy = length((GET_PIXEL(-1, -1)*u_kernel[0] +
			GET_PIXEL(0, -1)*u_kernel[1] +
			GET_PIXEL(+1, -1)*u_kernel[2]) -
		   (GET_PIXEL(-1, +1)*u_kernel[0] +
			GET_PIXEL(0, +1)*u_kernel[1] +
			GET_PIXEL(+1, +1)*u_kernel[2]));

gl_FragColor = vec4(dx*dx, dy*dy, dx*dy, 1.0);

How to generate key-points map

Next step is to compute Harris corner score at each image pixel and generate key-points map.

#define DET(_p)     ((_p).x*(_p).y - (_p).z*(_p).z)
#define TRACE(_p)   ((_p).x + (_p).y)

vec4 p = (GET_PIXEL(0, 0) + GET_PIXEL(-1, -1) + 
		GET_PIXEL(-1,  0) + GET_PIXEL(-1,  1) + 
		GET_PIXEL( 0,  1) + GET_PIXEL( 1,  1) + 
		GET_PIXEL( 1,  0) + GET_PIXEL( 1, -1) +
		GET_PIXEL( 0, -1)) / 9.0;
float k = 0.04;
float R = DET(p) - (k * (TRACE(p)*TRACE(p)));

How to extract dominant feature point?

Similar to Hough’s transformation, Harris’s algorithm yields multiple detection results in neighboring locations. Therefore, it is usually required to apply fast peak detection algorithm and to isolate only prominent key points.

Online App

Visit our online sample page to see the Harris corners detector in action.


See how it works in the browser!

fivekogfx harris corners detector thumb

Source Code


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