Illuminant cues in surface color perception: Tests of three candidate cues

Joong Nam Yang, Laurence T. Maloney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many recent computational models of surface color perception presuppose information about illumination in scenes. The models differ primarily in the physical process each makes use of as a cue to the illuminant. We evaluated whether the human visual system makes use of any of three of the following candidate illuminant cues: (1) specular highlight, (2) full surface specularity [Lee, H. C. (1986). Method for computing the scene-illuminant chromaticity from specular highlights. Journal of the Optical Society of America A, 3(10), 1694-1699; D'Zmura, M., & Lennie, P. (1986). Mechanisms of color constancy. Journal of the Optical Society of America A, 3(10), 1662-1672], and (3) uniform background. Observers viewed simulated scenes binocularly in a computer-controlled Wheatstone stereoscope. All simulated scenes contained a uniform background plane perpendicular to the observer's line of sight and a small number of specular, colored spheres resting on the uniform background. Scenes were rendered under either standard illuminant D65 or standard illuminant A. Observers adjusted the color of a small, simulated test patch to appear achromatic. In a series of experiments we perturbed the illuminant color signaled by each candidate cue and looked for an influence of the changed cue on achromatic settings. We found that the specular highlight cue had a significant influence, but that the influence was asymmetric: greater when the base illuminant, CIE standard Illuminant A, was perturbed in the direction of Illuminant D65 than vice versa. Neither the full surface specularity cue nor the background cue had any observable influence. The lack of influence of the background cue is likely due to the placement of the test patch in front of the background rather than, as is typical, embedded in the background.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2581-2600
Number of pages20
JournalVision research
Issue number20
StatePublished - 2001


  • Color
  • Color constancy
  • Color perception
  • Illuminant cue
  • Surface color

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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