Abstract

Snow seen against an overcast sky typically appears much brighter than the clouds that provide the illumination. This raises the problem of how a reflecting surface may appear brighter than its diffuse illuminant. We show that three factors are largely responsible for this visually striking effect: the law of darkening for the cloud cover, the reflectivity of the snow and the average landscape albedo, and the observer’s contrast sensitivity function. Thus the explanation is of a curiously mixed type: Both physical and psychophysical factors play a decisive role.

© 1992 Optical Society of America

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