When successive ridges of distant mountains are seen, observers often report that, near the ridge where the brightness changes abruptly, the upper part of the nearer ridge appears darker than at its lower portions. Similarly, they report that the base of the more distant mountain seems brighter adjacent to the nearer ridge than on its upper portions. The explanation of this phenomenon, known as the step contrast effect, is a special case of Mach bands. It is usually attributed to a visual illusion involving lateral inhibition in the eye, which is most apparent in the vicinity of step brightness changes. Using analytic techniques and numerical integrations to simulate the airlight-induced brightness distributions of such scenes, we show that in many cases the perceived brightness distribution is qualitatively similar to the true brightness distribution and thus is not a visual illusion.
© 1991 Optical Society of America
Original Manuscript: September 13, 1990
Published: August 20, 1991
David K. Lynch, "Step brightness changes of distant mountain ridges and their perception," Appl. Opt. 30, 3508-3513 (1991)