New article published in the Journal of Vision
"Perception of light source distance from shading patterns" by Heiko H. Schütt, Franziska Baier and Roland W. Fleming
Varying the distance of a light source from an object alters both the intensity and spatial distribution of surface shading patterns. We tested whether observers can use such cues to infer light source distance. Participants viewed stereoscopic renderings of rough objects with diffuse and glossy surfaces, which were illuminated by a point source at a range of distances. In one task, they adjusted the position of a small probe dot in 3D to report the apparent location of the light in the scene. In a second task, they adjusted the shading on one object (by moving an invisible light source), until it appeared to be illuminated from the same distance as another object. Participants’ responses increased linearly with the true light source distance, suggesting that they have clear intuitions about how light source distance affects shading patterns for a variety of different surfaces.
However, there were also systematic errors: subjects overestimated light source distance in the probe adjustment task, and in both experiments roughness and glossiness affected responses. We find the pattern of results is predicted surprisingly well by a simplistic model based only on the area of the image that exceeds a certain intensity threshold.
Thus, although subjects can report light source distance, they may rely on simple---sometimes erroneous---heuristics to do so.
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