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John D. Wilder, Wendy J. Adams, Richard F. Murray; Shape from shading under inconsistent illumination. Journal of Vision 2019;19(6):2. doi: 10.1167/19.6.2.
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People are able to perceive the 3D shape of illuminated surfaces using image shading cues. Theories about how we accomplish this often assume that the human visual system estimates a single lighting direction and interprets shading cues in accord with that estimate. In natural scenes, however, lighting can be much more complex than this, with multiple nearby light sources. Here we show that the human visual system can successfully judge 3D surface shape even when the lighting direction varies from place to place over a surface, provided the scale at which these lighting changes occur is similar to, or larger than, the size of the shape features being judged. Furthermore, we show that despite being able to accommodate rapid changes in lighting direction when judging shape, observers are generally unable to detect these changes. We conclude that, rather than relying on a single estimated illumination direction, the human visual system can accommodate illumination that varies substantially and rapidly across a surface.
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