The visual light field

Jan J. Koenderink*, Sylvia C. Pont, Andrea J. van Doorn, Astrid M L Kappers, James T. Todd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Human observers are sensitive to the '(physical) light field' in the sense that they have expectations of how a given object would appear if it were introduced in the scene in front of them at some arbitrary location. Thus the 'visual light field' is defined even in the 'empty space' between objects. In that sense the light field is akin to visual space considered as a 'container'. The visual light field at any given point can be measured in psychophysical experiments through the introduction of a suitable 'gauge object' at that position and letting the observer adjust the appearance of that gauge object (eg through suitable computer rendering) so as to produce a 'visual fit' into the scene. The parameters of the rendering will then be considered as the measurement result. We introduced white spheres as gauge objects at various locations in stereoscopically presented photographic scenes. We measured the direction ('direction of the light'), diffuseness ('quality of the light' as used by photographers and interior decorators), and intensity of the light field. We used three very different scenes, with very different physical light fields. The images were geometrically and photometrically calibrated, so we were in a position to correlate the observations with the physical 'ground truth'. We report that human observers are quite sensitive to various parameters of the physical light field and generally arrive at close to veridical settings, although a number of comparatively minor systematic deviations from veridicality can be noted. We conclude that the visual light field is an entity whose existence is at least as well defined as that of visual space, despite the fact that the visual light field hardly appears as prominently in vision science as it does in the visual arts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1595-1610
Number of pages16
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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