Illumination effects in face recognition

Wendy L. Braje, Daniel J Kersten, Michael J. Tarr, Nikolaus F. Troje

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


How do observers recognize faces despite dramatic image variations that arise from changes in illumination? This paper examines (1) whether face recognition is sensitive to illumination direction and (2) whether cast shadows improve performance by providing information about illumination or hinder performance by introducing spurious edges. In Experiment 1, observers judged whether two sequentially presented faces, illuminated from the same direction or different directions, were the same individual or not. Cast shadows were present for half of the observers. Performance was impaired by a change in the illumination direction and by the presence of shadows. In Experiment 2, observers learned to name eight faces under one illumination direction (left/right) and one cast-shadow condition (present/absent); they were later tested under novel illumination and shadow conditions. Performance declined for unfamiliar illumination directions, but not for unfamiliar shadow conditions. The finding that face recognition is illumination dependent is consistent with the use of image-based representations. The results indicate that face recognition processes are sensitive to either the direction of lighting or the resultant pattern of shading, and that cast shadows can hinder recognition, possibly by masking informative features or leading to spurious contours.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-380
Number of pages10
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1998

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