Visual Neuroscience


Color constancy in natural scenes explained by global image statistics

a1 Sensing, Imaging, and Signal Processing Group, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
a2 Department of Physics, Gualtar Campus, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal

Article author query
foster dh   [Google Scholar] 
amano k   [Google Scholar] 
nascimento smc   [Google Scholar] 


To what extent do observers' judgments of surface color with natural scenes depend on global image statistics? To address this question, a psychophysical experiment was performed in which images of natural scenes under two successive daylights were presented on a computer-controlled high-resolution color monitor. Observers reported whether there was a change in reflectance of a test surface in the scene. The scenes were obtained with a hyperspectral imaging system and included variously trees, shrubs, grasses, ferns, flowers, rocks, and buildings. Discrimination performance, quantified on a scale of 0 to 1 with a color-constancy index, varied from 0.69 to 0.97 over 21 scenes and two illuminant changes, from a correlated color temperature of 25,000 K to 6700 K and from 4000 K to 6700 K. The best account of these effects was provided by receptor-based rather than colorimetric properties of the images. Thus, in a linear regression, 43% of the variance in constancy index was explained by the log of the mean relative deviation in spatial cone-excitation ratios evaluated globally across the two images of a scene. A further 20% was explained by including the mean chroma of the first image and its difference from that of the second image and a further 7% by the mean difference in hue. Together, all four global color properties accounted for 70% of the variance and provided a good fit to the effects of scene and of illuminant change on color constancy, and, additionally, of changing test-surface position. By contrast, a spatial-frequency analysis of the images showed that the gradient of the luminance amplitude spectrum accounted for only 5% of the variance.

(Received March 8 2006)
(Accepted March 9 2006)

Key Words: Natural scenes; Color constancy; Image statistics; Spatial cone-excitation ratios; Spatial-frequency analysis.

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Professor D.H. Foster, Sensing, Imaging, and Signal Processing Group, School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Moffat Building, University of Manchester, Sackville Street, Manchester M60 1QD, UK. E-mail: