Illumination direction from texture shading

Jan J. Koenderink*, Andrea J. van Doorn, Astrid M L Kappers, Susan F. Te Pas, Sylvia C. Pont

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We investigate the ability of human observers to judge the direction of illumination from image texture. Photographs of 61 real surfaces were used, taken from the Columbia-Utrecht Reflectance and Texture (Curet) database ( All samples were normally viewed but obliquely illuminated, the elevation of the source being 22.5°, 45.0°, or 67.5°. The illumination was with a collimated, parallel beam. Stimuli were presented in random orientation, and observers had to judge both the elevation and the azimuth of the source. Observers judged the azimuth within approximately 15°, except for the fact that they committed random (with approximately 50% probability) sign flips (180° flips). Connected with this finding is the fact that observers judged the illumination to be from above rather than below in the overwhelming majority of cases, despite the fact that each case occurred with equal probability. The elevation of the illumination can be judged to some extent but is not far above chance level. The data are in good agreement with a simple model that bases the estimate of illumination direction on the second-order statistics of local luminance gradients. This locates the locus of the probable mechanism very early in the visual stream.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)987-995
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Optical Society of America. A: Optics, image science, and vision.
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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