BACKGROUND The hallmarks of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, are the subretinal deposits known as drusen. Drusen identification and measurement play a key role in clinical studies of this disease. Current manual methods of drusen measurement are laborious and subjective. Our purpose was to expedite clinical research with an accurate, reliable digital method. METHODS An interactive semi-automated procedure was developed to level the macular background reflectance for the purpose of morphometric analysis of drusen. 12 color fundus photographs of patients with age-related macular degeneration and drusen were analyzed. After digitizing the photographs, the underlying background pattern in the green channel was leveled by an algorithm based on the elliptically concentric geometry of the reflectance in the normal macula: the gray scale values of all structures within defined elliptical boundaries were raised sequentially until a uniform background was obtained. Segmentation of drusen and area measurements in the central and middle subfields (1000 microm and 3000 microm diameters) were performed by uniform thresholds. Two observers using this interactive semi-automated software measured each image digitally. The mean digital measurements were compared to independent stereo fundus gradings by two expert graders (stereo Grader 1 estimated the drusen percentage in each of the 24 regions as falling into one of four standard broad ranges; stereo Grader 2 estimated drusen percentages in 1% to 5% intervals). RESULTS The mean digital area measurements had a median standard deviation of 1.9%. The mean digital area measurements agreed with stereo Grader 1 in 22/24 cases. The 95% limits of agreement between the mean digital area measurements and the more precise stereo gradings of Grader 2 were -6.4 % to +6.8 % in the central subfield and -6.0 % to +4.5 % in the middle subfield. The mean absolute differences between the digital and stereo gradings 2 were 2.8 +/- 3.4% in the central subfield and 2.2 +/- 2.7% in the middle subfield. CONCLUSIONS Semi-automated, supervised drusen measurements may be done reproducibly and accurately with adaptations of commercial software. This technique for macular image analysis has potential for use in clinical research.