Looking against the light: how perception of translucency depends on lighting direction

J Vis. 2014 Mar 13;14(3):17. doi: 10.1167/14.3.17.


Translucency is an important aspect of material appearance. To some extent, humans are able to estimate translucency in a consistent way across different shapes and lighting conditions, i.e., to exhibit translucency constancy. However, Fleming and Bülthoff (2005) have shown that that there can be large failures of constancy, with lighting direction playing an important role. In this paper, we explore the interaction of shape, illumination, and degree of translucency constancy more deeply by including in our analysis the variations in translucent appearance that are induced by the shape of the scattering phase function. This is an aspect of translucency that has been largely neglected. We used appearance matching to measure how perceived translucency depends on both lighting and phase function. The stimuli were rendered scenes that contained a figurine and the lighting direction was represented by spherical harmonic basis function. Observers adjusted the density of a figurine under one lighting condition to match the material property of a target figurine under another lighting condition. Across the trials, we varied both the lighting direction and the phase function of the target. The phase functions were sampled from a 2D space proposed by Gkioulekas et al. (2013) to span an important range of translucent appearance. We find the degree of translucency constancy depends strongly on the phase function's location in the same 2D space, suggesting that the space captures useful information about different types of translucency. We also find that the geometry of an object is important. We compare the case of a torus, which has a simple smooth shape, with that of the figurine, which has more complex geometric features. The complex shape shows a greater range of apparent translucencies and a higher degree of constancy failure. In summary, humans show significant failures of translucency constancy across changes in lighting direction, but the effect depends both on the shape complexity and the translucency phase function.

Keywords: 3D shape; lighting; material perception; phase functions; translucency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Lighting*
  • Male