Estimating lighting direction in scenes with multiple objects

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2024 Jan;86(1):186-212. doi: 10.3758/s13414-023-02718-0. Epub 2023 Aug 1.


To recover the reflectance and shape of an object in a scene, the human visual system must account for the properties of the light illuminating the object. Here, we examine the extent to which multiple objects within a scene are utilised to estimate the direction of lighting in a scene. In Experiment 1, we presented participants with rendered scenes that contained 1, 9, or 25 unfamiliar blob-like objects and measured their capacity to discriminate whether a directional light source was left or right of the participants' vantage point. Trends reported for ensemble perception suggest that the number of utilised objects-and, consequently, discrimination sensitivity-would increase with set size. However, we find little indication that increasing the number of objects in a scene increased discrimination sensitivity. In Experiment 2, an equivalent noise analysis was used to measure participants' internal noise and the number of objects used to judge the average light source direction in a scene, finding that participants relied on 1 or 2 objects to make their judgement regardless of whether 9 or 25 objects were present. In Experiment 3, participants completed a shape identification task that required an implicit judgement of light source direction, rather than an explicit judgement as in Experiments 1 and 2. We find that sensitivity for identifying surface shape was comparable for scenes containing 1, 9, and 25 objects. Our results suggest that the visual system relied on a small number of objects to estimate the direction of lighting in our rendered scenes.

Keywords: Ensemble perception; Equivalent noise; Illumination perception; Psychophysics; Shape identification.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Lighting*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual