Functional models of the early visual system should predict responses not only to simple artificial stimuli but also to sequences of complex natural scenes. An ideal testbed for such models is the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). Mechanisms shaping LGN responses include the linear receptive field and two fast adaptation processes, sensitive to luminance and contrast. We propose a compact functional model for these mechanisms that operates on sequences of arbitrary images. With the same parameters that fit the firing rate responses to simple stimuli, it predicts the bulk of the firing rate responses to complex stimuli, including natural scenes. Further improvements could result by adding a spiking mechanism, possibly one capable of bursts, but not by adding mechanisms of slow adaptation. We conclude that up to the LGN the responses to natural scenes can be largely explained through insights gained with simple artificial stimuli.