The perception of shape from shading depends on the orientation of the shading gradient    . Displays composed of elements with vertically oriented shading gradients of opposite polarity produce a strong and stable percept of 'concave' and 'convex' elements. If the shading gradients are rotated 90 degrees , the depth percept is reduced and appears much more ambiguous. Results from psychophysical      , neuropsychological  and computational studies   suggest that the perception of shape from shading engages specific mechanisms in early cortical visual areas. In a three-dimensional functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study at 1.5 Tesla using a three-dimensional, interleaved-echoplanar imaging technique and a surface radio frequency (RF) coil placed under the visual cortex, we investigated the activity in these early visual areas associated with viewing shape from shading displays at two different orientations. We found significantly greater activation in area V1 and neighbouring low-level visual areas of cortex when subjects viewed displays that led to weak and unstable depth percepts than when they viewed displays that led to strong and stable depth percepts.