Introduction to Python

This tutorial will walk through a short introduction to Python with emphasis on the necessary basics for using dmtools and working with images. To get the most out of this tutorial, it is recommended to follow along by running all the code snippets yourself.

Python Scripts

In the Installation section, you saw how you can open up a Python prompt in a terminal where you can enter Python commands and run them. Anything more than a one line command is going to be bothersome to write in a prompt. Furthermore, it will not be repeatable. The python script addresses these issues. A Python script is a text file with the .py extension. We can write these files in any text editor. This tutorial assumes you are using VS Code (see Installing VS Code). After creating a Python script, you can run the script from a terminal with python However, there is one catch: you must be in the directory where the script is located. Hence, we need to be able to navigate directories while in a terminal.

Hello World!

In this section, we will create a directory where we will put our Python scripts and create our first script.

First, open up a terminal. Run the command mkdir scripts to create a directory called scripts. You can then cd into it a run ls to see that there is nothing in it yet.

(base) Name-Of-Machine:~ Name-Of-User$ ls
Applications    Library
Desktop         Movies
Documents       Music
Downloads       Public
(base) Name-Of-Machine:~ Name-Of-User$ mkdir scripts
(base) Name-Of-Machine:~ Name-Of-User$ ls
Applications    Movies
Desktop         Music
Documents       Public
Downloads       scripts
(base) Name-Of-Machine:~ Name-Of-User$ cd scripts
(base) Name-Of-Machine:scripts Name-Of-User$ ls
(base) Name-Of-Machine:scripts Name-Of-User$

Now, let’s create our first Python script! Rather than opening VS Code in the traditional way you open applications, we will open it from the terminal. This is because it will automatically put the files we create in the working directory which will prevent us from running into issues when trying to run our Python scripts. Make sure you are still in the scripts directory and run code . to open VS Code (don’t close your terminal because you will need it to run the Python scripts). You will see a file navigation window on the left. Create a new file called


print("Hello World!")

# Expected Output:
# Hellow World!

The lines with # at the beginning are just comments in the Python code. You do not need to include them but they can give helpful information! Save the file and try running python in the terminal.

(base) Name-Of-Machine:scripts Name-Of-User$ python
Hello World!

You just created your first Python script! The remainder of this tutorial will walk you through the basics of Python through multiple example Python scripts . Again, it is recommended you follow along by creating and running these scripts. Even better, try modifying them to see if the output changes as you would expect!


We can add, multipy, subtract, and divide numbers quite easily. What if we want to use some more complex math functions like the sine function? A lot of these are provided by a package called NumPy (which we will look at much closer in Working with Images in NumPy). To access these functions, we first need to import the package with import numpy as np. We can then use np.sin() to apply the sine function to some value. The math package also provides some useful functions you may want to use like the floor and ceiling function.


# addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
print(1 + 1)  # 2
print(3 - 1)  # 2
print(1 * 2)  # 2
print(4 / 2)  # 2.0

# exponents
print(3**2)        # 9
print(9**(1 / 2))  # 3.0

# math functions from numpy
import numpy as np
print(np.sin(1))  # 0.8414709848078965
print(np.sin(np.pi / 2))  # 1.0

# math functions from math
import math
print(math.floor(0.5))  # 0
print(math.ceil(0.5))  # 1


It is often helpful to assign a name to a value. This is called a variable. In the script below, we set the variable x to be 1 and y to be 2. We can then use these variables just like they were the values we assigned them to.


x = 1
y = 2
z = x + y

print(x + y)  # 3
print(y * 2)  # 4
print(z)      # 3


If we want to do the same command multiple times, we can use a loop. A loop has the syntax for i in range(n) where n is the number of times we will run through this loop. The variable i starts at zero and is incremented by one every time we run through the loop. The lines of code that are run in every iteration of the loop make up the loop body. We indent the lines that are in the loop body.


for i in range(5):

x = 0
for i in range(5):
    x = x + i

# Expected Output:
# 0
# 1
# 2
# 3
# 4
# 10

Conditional Statements

What if we want to run a line of code only if a certain condition holds? These are called conditional statements. To compare values, we can use == for equals and != for not equals. Note that x = 2 assigns variable x the value 2 while x == 2 returns if x has value 2 or not. Next, we need the syntax for boolean operators like and, or, and not. The operator x & y returns True if both x and y are True. The operator x | y returns True if at least one of x or y are True. Lastly, we have the syntax for the conditional statement which is if x: where the body of the conditional statement runs if x is True. The body of the conditional statement is denoted with indentation like the loop body.


x = True
y = False

print(x == True)   # True
print(x == False)  # False
print(x != False)  # True

print(not x)  # False

print(x & y)        # False
print(x & (not y))  # True
print(x | y)        # True
print((not x) | y)  # False

if True:

if False:
    print('This will not print.')

if x | y:


Sometimes we have a list of values we care about and not just a single value. We can represent these as a list. For example, x = [1,2,3] is a list of three integers. We can then access the value at a certain index with the notation x[i] where i is the index of the value we want. Python is zero-indexed which means that the first value in a list has index zero. We can add values to lists with .append(). We can also add lists together.


x = [1, 2, 3]
y = [4, 5]

print(x)     # [1, 2, 3]
print(x[0])  # 1
print(x[2])  # 3

print(x)     # [1, 2, 3, 4]

print(x + y) # [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

List Comprehension

One of the many nice features in Python is called list comprehension. It allows us to initialize a list. It essentially combines the syntax for a list with the syntax for a loop allowing us to define a list with less code.


# without list comprehension

x = []  # this list is empty
for i in range(4):
print(x)  # [0, 1, 2, 3]

# with list comprehension

x = [i for i in range(4)]
print(x)  # [0, 1, 2, 3]

y = [i**2 for i in range(4) if i**2 != 4]
print(y)  # [0, 1, 9]


One of the most important concepts in programming is the function. Functions allow us to avoid writing the same code multiple times. A function has parameters or inputs. Sometimes it has an output and other times, it does not. The notation for a function declaration in Python is def f(x, y, ...): where f is the name of the function and x, y, ... are the function parameters. Like we have seen before, we use indentation in Python to denote the function body. This is the code that will be run every time the function is called. If the function will return a value, we use the keyword return. Lastly, when we want to call the function, we use the notation f(x, y, ...) where f is the name of the function and x, y, ... are the arguments or actual values we are assigning the parameters of that function.


# this function returns something
def add(x, y):
    return x + y

x = add(2,3)
y = add(7,8)
print(x)       # 5
print(y)       # 15

# this function does not return anything
def append_one(x):

x = [4, 3, 2]
y = append_one(x)
print(x)       # [4, 3, 2, 1]
print(y)       # None

That concludes the tutorial! If you want to do something in Python but don’t know the syntax, Stack Overflow is a great resource. It is also a great resource if you get an error message when trying to run your Python script.