Surface color perception and equivalent illumination models

David H. Brainard, Laurence T. Maloney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vision provides information about the properties and identity of objects. The ease with which we perceive object properties belies the difficulty of the underlying information-processing task. In the case of object color, retinal information about object reflectance is confounded with information about the illumination as well as about the object's shape and pose. There is no obvious rule that allows transformation of the retinal image to a color representation that depends primarily on object surface reflectance. Under many circumstances, however, object color appearance is remarkably stable across scenes in which the object is viewed. Here, we review a line of experiments and theory that aim to understand how the visual system stabilizes object color appearance. Our emphasis is on models derived from explicit analysis of the computational problem of estimating the physical properties of illuminants and surfaces from the retinal image, and experiments that test these models. We argue that this approach has considerable promise for allowing generalization from simplified laboratory experiments to richer scenes that more closely approximate natural viewing. We discuss the relation between the work we review and other theoretical approaches available in the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011


  • Color constancy
  • Computational models
  • Equivalent illumination model
  • Lightness constancy
  • Object surface perception
  • Surface color perception
  • Surface lightness perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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