We present an image quality metric based on the transformations associated with the early visual system: local luminance subtraction and local gain control. Images are decomposed using a Laplacian pyramid, which subtracts a local estimate of the mean luminance at multiple scales. Each pyramid coefficient is then divided by a local estimate of amplitude (weighted sum of absolute values of neighbors), where the weights are optimized for prediction of amplitude using (undistorted) images from a separate database. We define the quality of a distorted image, relative to its undistorted original, as the root mean squared error in this "normalized Laplacian " domain. We show that both luminance subtraction and amplitude division stages lead to significant reductions in redundancy relative to the original image pixels. We also show that the resulting quality metric provides a better account of human perceptual judgements than either MS-SSIM or a recently-published gain-control metric based on oriented filters.