Luminance contrast provides metric depth information

Paul B. Hibbard*, Ross Goutcher, Rebecca L. Hornsey, David W. Hunter, Peter Scarfe

*Corresponding author for this work

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The perception of depth from retinal images depends on information from multiple visual cues. One potential depth cue is the statistical relationship between luminance and distance; darker points in a local region of an image tend to be farther away than brighter points. We establish that this statistical relationship acts as a quantitative cue to depth. We show that luminance variations affect depth in naturalistic scenes containing multiple cues to depth. This occurred when the correlation between variations of luminance and depth was manipulated within an object, but not between objects. This is consistent with the local nature of the statistical relationship in natural scenes. We also showed that perceived depth increases as contrast is increased, but only when the depth signalled by luminance and binocular disparity are consistent. Our results show that the negative correlation between luminance and distance, as found under diffuse lighting, provides a depth cue that is combined with depth from binocular disparity, in a way that is consistent with the simultaneous estimation of surface depth and reflectance variations. Adopting more complex lighting models such as ambient occlusion in computer rendering will thus contribute to the accuracy as well as the aesthetic appearance of three-dimensional graphics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number220567
Number of pages16
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2023


  • Psychology and cognitive neuroscience
  • Research articles
  • vision
  • stereopsis
  • image statistics
  • binocular disparity
  • shape from shading

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