What information is available from a brief glance at a novel scene? Although previous efforts to answer this question have focused on scene categorization or object detection, real-world scenes contain a wealth of information whose perceptual availability has yet to be explored. We compared image exposure thresholds in several tasks involving basic-level categorization or global- property classification. All thresholds were remarkably short: Observers achieved 75%-correct performance with presentations ranging from 19 to 67 ms, reaching maximum performance at about 100 ms. Global-property categorization was performed with significantly less presentation time than basic-level categorization, which suggests that there exists a time during early visual processing when a scene may be classified as, for example, a large space or navigable, but not yet as a mountain or lake. Comparing the relative availability of visual information reveals bottlenecks in the accumulation of meaning. Understanding these bottlenecks provides critical insight into the computations underlying rapid visual understanding.