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J Vis. 2009 Mar 24;9(3):18.1-11. doi: 10.1167/9.3.18.

Can illumination estimates provide the basis for color constancy?

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Faculty of Human Movement Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Objects hardly appear to change color when the spectral distribution of the illumination changes: a phenomenon known as color constancy. Color constancy could either be achieved by relying on properties that are insensitive to changes in the illumination (such as spatial color contrast) or by compensating for the estimated chromaticity of the illuminant. We examined whether subjects can judge the illuminant's color well enough to account for their own color constancy. We found that subjects were very poor at judging the color of a lamp from the light reflected by the scene it illuminated. They were much better at judging the color of a surface within the scene. We conclude that color constancy must be achieved by relying on relationships that are insensitive to the illumination rather than by explicitly judging the color of the illumination.

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