Context affects lightness at the level of surfaces.
We used a novel probe disk technique to test for the existence of functional frames of reference for lightness perception in complex images. Thirteen identical gray disks were electronically pasted into the photograph Trastevere, which shows two large regions of sunlight and shadow. Observers matched the lightness of each disk with a Munsell scale. The data revealed a framework effect. That is, lightness differences within either the sunlight or shadow region were small relative to the pronounced step function at the framework boundary. Additional experiments testing the perceived embeddedness of the disks showed that the framework effect was increased when disk size and shape were altered to conform to the perspective shown in the photograph and when the disks were blurred slightly to conform to the graininess of the photograph. The effect was further increased when the photograph was viewed through a pinhole and when the disks were presented one by one. The effect was reduced when paper disks of equal luminance and visual angle were pasted onto the glass front of the CRT screen. When the sunlight framework was covered with black paper, the remained disks within the shadow region appeared white, as predicted by the anchoring theory (A. Gilchrist, 2006).