Perception of shape from shading

Nature. 1988 Jan 14;331(6152):163-6. doi: 10.1038/331163a0.


The human visual system can rapidly and accurately derive the three-dimensional orientation of surfaces by using variations in image intensity alone. This ability to perceive shape from shading is one of the most important yet poorly understood aspects of human vision. Here we present several findings which may help reveal computational mechanisms underlying this ability. First, we find that perception of shape from shading is a global operation which assumes that there is only one light source illuminating the entire visual image. This implies that if two identical objects are viewed simultaneously and illuminated from different angles, then we would be able to perceive three-dimensional shape accurately in only one of them at a time. Second, three-dimensional shapes that are defined exclusively by shading can provide tokens for the perception of apparent motion, suggesting that the motion mechanism is remarkably versatile in the kinds of inputs it can use. Lastly, the occluding edges which delineate an object from its background can also powerfully influence the perception of three-dimensional shape from shading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Depth Perception / physiology
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Motion Perception / physiology