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Journal of the Optical Society of America A

Journal of the Optical Society of America A


  • Vol. 17, Iss. 5 — May. 1, 2000
  • pp: 831–835

Color perception through atmospheric haze

Ronald C. Henry, Shudeish Mahadev, Santiago Urquijo, and Derek Chitwood  »View Author Affiliations

JOSA A, Vol. 17, Issue 5, pp. 831-835 (2000)

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The radiance of most objects seen at a distance through the atmosphere is dominated by scattered light of a blue hue that should make the landscape appear predominately blue. However, common experience shows that people can see colors at a distance. A possible explanation of this paradox is that the visual system splits the light into a haze layer and the background landscape. A straightforward mathematical description of this splitting explains the results of a color matching study in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this study, hues of objects seen through haze were found to be constant with changes in optical depth while colorfulness decreased exponentially.

© 2000 Optical Society of America

OCIS Codes
(010.1110) Atmospheric and oceanic optics : Aerosols
(010.1290) Atmospheric and oceanic optics : Atmospheric optics
(330.1720) Vision, color, and visual optics : Color vision
(330.5020) Vision, color, and visual optics : Perception psychology
(330.5510) Vision, color, and visual optics : Psychophysics

Original Manuscript: June 25, 1999
Revised Manuscript: December 23, 1999
Manuscript Accepted: January 13, 2000
Published: May 1, 2000

Ronald C. Henry, Shudeish Mahadev, Santiago Urquijo, and Derek Chitwood, "Color perception through atmospheric haze," J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 17, 831-835 (2000)

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  1. M. G. F. Minnaert, Light and Color in the Outdoors (Springer-Verlag, New York, 1993), p. 265.
  2. Minnaert’s observations may be repeated by looking through a small (∼0.5 cm) hole made by a cupped hand or a hole in a piece of cardboard and looking at any distant landscape feature. One should allow about 45 seconds to a minute for the eye to adapt to the new conditions.
  3. W. E. K. Middleton, Vision Through the Atmosphere (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1952), p. 73.
  4. The visual range is usually taken to be the distance at which the optical depth reaches 3.91.
  5. E. Andrews, P. Saxena, S. Musarra, L. M. Hildemann, P. Koutrakis, P. H. McMurry, I. Olmez, W. H. White, “Concentration and composition of atmospheric aerosols from the 1995 SEAVS experiment and a review of the closure between chemical and gravimetric measurements,” J. Air Waste Management Assoc. (to be published).
  6. S. Mahadev, R. C. Henry, “Application of a color-appearance model to vision through atmospheric haze,” Color Res. Appl. 24, 112–120 (1999). [CrossRef]
  7. Shudeish Mahadev, “Quantifying the color appearance of objects viewed through atmospheric haze,” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Calif., 1998).
  8. R. C. Henry, T. Shibata, D. Chitwood, “Construction and operation of a video-based visual colorimeter for atmospheric research,” Atmos. Environ., Part A 28, 1065–1069 (1994). [CrossRef]
  9. While haploscopic matching with the visual colorimeter, the observer sees the natural scene in one eye and the adjustable color spot in the other. The two views do not fuse, and the observer must learn to switch attention from one eye to the other, which can be difficult. Years ago an attempt was made to alleviate this difficulty and better control the matching. The first author designed a visual colorimeter with an automated mechanism that alternately blocked first the eye viewing the colorimeter display and then the eye viewing the natural scene, so that the observer did not have to deal with visual rivalry between the two eyes. This approach was found to be too slow and unworkable under field conditions and was abandoned.
  10. R. W. G. Hunt, The Reproduction of Colour, 5th ed. (Fountain, England, 1995), Chap. 31.
  11. P. Whittle, “Contrast brightness and ordinary seeing,” in Lightness, Brightness, and Transparency, A. L. Gilchrist, ed. (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J., 1994), p. 113.
  12. Mark D. Fairchild, Color Appearance Models (Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass., 1998).
  13. W. Gerbino, “Achromatic transparency,” in Lightness, Brightness, and Transparency, A. L. Gilchrist, ed. (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J., 1994), Chap. 5.
  14. M. D’Zmura, P. Colantoni, K. Knoblauch, P. Lennie, “Color transparency,” Perception 26, 471–492 (1997). [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  15. V. J. Chen, M. D’Zmura, “Test of a convergence model for color transparency perception,” Perception 27, 595–608 (1998). [CrossRef]
  16. A. L. Gilchrist, A. Jacobsen, “Lightness constancy through a veiling luminance,” J. Exp. Psychol. 9, 936–944 (1983).
  17. R. C. Henry, “Psychophysics, visibility, and perceived transparency,” Atmos. Environ. 21, 159–164 (1987). [CrossRef]
  18. “Protecting visibility in national parks and wilderness areas” (National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1993).

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