Distributed, autonomous and energy efficient protocols are best suited for wireless sensor networks, where network needs and events are dynamic. In this paper, a wireless face recognition system with limited resources such as energy, memory and bandwidth is analyzed. The performance of the applications is influenced by the protocol adaptability and quality of information. Performance comparisons are completed using 1. In-network image compression using Contourlet and Wavelet transforms versus raw image data transmission, 2. longevity of sensors versus network throughput. Balancing resource constraints, maintaining network lifetime and throughput is a non-deterministic polynomial computation time problem. Thus a meta-heuristic combinatorial algorithm, based on swarm intelligence, forms the cognitive routing protocol. The network efficiency considers energy consumption, response time, probability of correct acceptance, processing and computation time for wireless image transmission.