Journal of Pattern Recognition Research 1 (2006) 42-54
An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms
School of Nuclear Engineering, Purdue University,
400 Central Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA
Besma R. Abidi email@example.com
Andreas Koschan firstname.lastname@example.org
Mongi A. Abidi email@example.com
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The University of Tennessee
334 Ferris Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA
Received March 09, 2006. Received in revised form March 05, 2006. Accepted March 08, 2006.
Color constancy is one of the important research areas with a wide range of ap-
plications in the ﬁelds of color image processing and computer vision. One such
application is video tracking. Color is used as one of the salient features and its
robustness to illumination variation is essential to the adaptability of video tracking
algorithms. Color constancy can be applied to discount the inﬂuence of changing
illuminations. In this paper, we present a review of established color constancy
approaches. We also investigate whether these approaches in their present form of
implementation can be applied to the video tracking problem. The approaches are
grouped into two categories, namely, Pre-Calibrated and Data-driven approaches.
The paper also talks about the ill-posedness of the color constancy problem, imple-
mentation assumptions of color constancy approaches, and problem statement for
tracking. Publications on video tracking algorithms involving color correction or
color compensation techniques are not included in this review.
Keywords: Color constancy, Categorization of algorithms, Video tracking.
Over decades, researchers have tried to solve the problem of color constancy by proposing
a number of algorithmic and instrumentation approaches. Nevertheless, no unique solution
has been identiﬁed. Given a wide range of computer vision applications that require color
constancy, it is not possible to obtain a unique solution. This led researchers in the ﬁeld to
identify sets of possible approaches that can be applied to particular problems. Particularly,
eﬀorts are directed towards identifying color constancy approaches that can be applied to
real time video tracking as reviewd in this paper.
We present a simple example, which will give an insight into the problem of color con-
stancy. Imagine, a light emitted by a lamp and reﬂected by a red color object, causing
a color sensation in the brain of the observer. The physical composition of the reﬂected
light depends on the color of the light source. However, this eﬀect is compensated by the
human vision system. Hence, regardless of the color of the light source, we will see the true
red color of the object. The ability to correct color deviations caused by a diﬀerence in
illumination as done by the human vision system is, known as color constancy. The same
process is not trivial to machine vision systems in an unconstrained scene. This deﬁnes the
∗. The ﬁrst author is now with Purdue University. All the work reported in this paper was performed
during his graduate studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
2006 JPRR. All rights reserved.
V. Agarwal, B.R. Abidi, A. Koschan, and M.A. Abidi, "An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms," Journal of
Pattern Recognition Research, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 42-54, May 2006.
An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms
color constancy problem. Therefore, the goal of color constancy research is to achieve an
illuminant invariant description of a scene taken under illumination whose spectral charac-
teristics are unknown (It is referred to as unknown illumination). It is a two step process.
In the ﬁrst step, an estimate of the illuminant parameters is obtained, and in the second
step, the illuminant independent surface descriptor is parametrically computed [12, 33, 42].
Often illumination invariant descriptor of the scene are computed under an illumination
whose spectral characteristics are known (It is referred to as canonical illumination).
The choice of canonical illumination is somewhat arbitrary, but often this is the illumina-
tion for which the camera is balanced.
Mathematically, a color image is represented as,
(x, y, λ) =
R(x, y, λ)L(λ)S
a product of three variables, namely, R(x, y, λ) the surface reﬂectance, L(λ) the illumina-
tion property, and S
(λ) the sensor characteristics, as a function of the wavelength λ, over
the visible spectrum ω. The subscript k represents the sensor’s response in the k
(x, y, λ) is the image corresponding to the k
channel (k = R, G, B). If a constant
surface reﬂectance and a known sensor characteristics are assumed, then any variation in
illumination will change the color appearance of the image. In color constancy research,
eﬀorts are directed toward discounting the eﬀect of illumination and obtaining a canonical
The human vision system exhibits an approximate color constancy processing. The same
phenomena cannot be observed in machine vision systems. The idea to obtain color con-
stancy is based on many theories proposed by researchers in the ﬁeld [10, 12, 13, 16, 18, 21,
24, 32, 40, 42, 52, 55]. Most of the theories identiﬁed color constancy as a very diﬃcult and
an under constrained problem. According to Hadamard , a French mathematician, a
problem is well posed if the following three conditions are satisﬁed, (i) there exits a solution,
(ii) this solution is unique, and (iii) this unique solution is stable. If any of these conditions
are not satisﬁed, then the problem is known as ill-posed. In color constancy, the unique-
ness and the stability of the solution cannot be guaranteed because of the high correlation
between the color in the image and the color of the illuminant. This collinearity have the
following eﬀects on the estimation of illumination coeﬃcients, (i) imprecise estimation and
(ii) a slight variation is collinearity may lead to a large variation in the estimation.
A color applications such as video tracking is one of the active research ﬁelds in computer
vision. It focuses on identifying a target (a person or an object) in an unconstrained envi-
ronment. The tracking algorithm framework takes into consideration diﬀerent features of
the target like shape, size, orientation and color. From equation (1), we observe that a color
image is a function of illumination. This makes the color feature more sensitive to chang-
ing environments and illumination conditions. Therefore, it is essentially important that
color-based tracking algorithms be adaptive to color variations. Hence, it becomes utterly
important to achieve approximate color constancy of the target to enhance the robustness
A color image is a function of three variables (equation(1)), therefore the assumptions are
categorized into three classes, (i) assumptions based on sensors, (ii) assumptions based on
surface reﬂectance, and (iii) assumptions based on illumination. Most cameras automati-
cally perform a gamma correction, auto gain, white balancing and others, aﬀect the image
acquisition. Sensors automatically perform a gamma correction on the image and it is im-
portant to inverse the gamma correction to obtain the true RGB values of the image. In
Agarwal et al.
some literature, these RGB values are also referred to as raw values of the image. Barnard
et al.  showed that the sensor factors can be normalized by careful camera calibration.
Most of the theories assume Lambertian surfaces and diﬀuse reﬂection conditions [2, 3, 24],
eventhough the occurrence of specular highlights have been of particular interest in the color
constancy research. Specular highlights are understood to carry illuminant chromaticity in-
formation [16, 52, 55]. Some algorithms also assume spatially uniform illumination across
the scene [2, 3, 21, 24], i.e., homogeneous illumination conditions. Such assumptions are
void in unconstrained scenes. Researchers [8, 32, 36] have also addressed the issue of color
constancy under inhomogeneous illumination conditions.
Besides these three general categories, assumptions about the diversity, and possible sta-
tistics of the surfaces and illuminants that will be encountered are also considered. The
gray world (GW) algorithm  is based on the assumption that the color in each sensor
channel averages to gray over the entire image. Any deviation from the gray value is due to
the chromaticity shift of the illuminant. It is one of the important assumptions when try-
ing to estimate the spectral distribution of the illuminant. Similarly, Scale by Max (SBM)
algorithm provides the estimates of the illuminant by measuring the maximum response in
each channel. SBM is also shown to be a subset of the Bayesian framework .
Barnard et al. [2, 3] provided a computational comparison between diﬀerent color con-
stancy algorithms. Those computational comparisons were obtained using a dataset 
under constrained experimental conditions. The advantage of the dataset  is that the
true spectral information of the illumination used to collect the data is known. This helps
to compute the ground truth RGB and chromaticity values. The drawback of the dataset
is that it does not model the illumination spectrum that will be observed in real practical
images. We revisit most of the algorithms discussed in [2, 3] and also include reviews on
the algorithms proposed until 2004.
We categorize the reviewed color constancy approaches into two categories and discuss
them in detail in Section 2. In Section 3, the problem statement of video tracking is pre-
sented. We also discuss whether the algorithms of each categories can be applied to video
tracking in their present form. Finally, conclusions and possible future works are presented
in Section 4.
2. Color constancy algorithms
Researchers from various disciplines of engineering and science have tried to solve the color
constancy problem. They proposed and applied many theories taking into consideration
the assumptions and the sensor limitations. We categorizes methods into two main cate-
gories, namely, Pre-Calibrated approaches and Data-driven approaches. These categories
are further subcategorized as shown below:
I. Pre-Calibrated approaches
1. General transformation based approaches and
2. Diagonal transformation based approaches.
II. Data-driven approaches
1. Gray World and Scale By Max approaches,
2. Retinex approaches,
3. Gamut mapping approaches (may also be a diagonal approach),
4. Statistical approaches, and
5. Machine learning approaches.
An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms
2.1 Pre-Calibrated approaches
The sensor used to capture the color image is calibrated  and its response is studied
under diﬀerent illumination conditions. This is important for the selection of the canonical
illumination. To obtain an illuminant invariant description of an image captured under
unknown illumination conditions, transformation based approaches were introduced. These
approaches map the surface reﬂectance observed under the canonical illuminant to the sur-
face reﬂectance of the scene observed under unknown illuminant. They assume proper
knowledge of the sensor characteristics and other assumptions such as uniform illumination
and single illumination source. The linear (general) transformation and diagonal transfor-
mation approaches are discussed.
2.1.1 General transformation based approaches
In early 1980’s transform based approaches were introduced. Most authors consider the
transformation to be a linear map of 3 x 3 matrices. Gershon et al.  proposed an
algorithm to solve for the transformation, based on three assumptions: (i) both the illu-
mination and the surface reﬂectance spectra can be modeled using small dimensional basis
sets, (ii) the average surface reﬂectance in every Mondrian patch is the same, and (iii) the
illumination is uniform. The algorithm solved for the illuminant ﬁrst and then estimated
the transformation. However, the algorithm showed poor performance because the second
assumption varied signiﬁcantly and it is very diﬃcult to always maintain uniform illumina-
tion. Maloney et al. [42, 43] proposed a 3-2 algorithm to solve for the limitations of  by
modifying the assumptions. They made two further assumptions: (i) if there are n sensors,
then the dimensionality of the illuminant is less than or equal to n and (ii) the illumina-
tion is locally uniform. These assumptions suggest that pseudo-inverse can be applied to
solve for color constancy, if the surface reﬂectances are two dimensional. Unfortunately,the
surface reﬂectances have higher dimension. Forsyth  extended [42, 43] these algorithms,
MWEXT (Maloney-Wandell EXTension), to obtain a set of plausible mappings instead of
a unique mapping.
2.1.2 Diagonal transformation based approaches
The color constancy algorithms in [21, 24, 36, 40, 49, 59] are based on diagonal matrix
transformation. In this case, color constancy is obtained, by simply taking the dot product
of diagonal matrix and the image matrix obtained under unknown illumination. This is
equivalent to independently scaling each channel by a factor. West et al.  showed that
von Kries hypothesis that chromatic adaptation is a central mechanism for color constancy
is based on the diagonal matrix transformation. Barnard et al.  and Finlayson et al. ,
proposed a sensor sharpening method to improve the performance of the color constancy
algorithms based on diagonal matrix transformation. The idea of sensor sharpening is to
map the data by a linear transform into a new space where diagonal models are more
reliable. The ﬁnal result is then mapped back to the original RGB space by taking the
inverse transformation. The performance of the color constancy algorithms depending on
diagonal transformation is improved by spectral sharpening in terms of low root mean
2.2 Data-driven approaches
The approaches discussed in this section evolve from a simple algorithmic implementation to
the implementation of sophisticated statistical and machine learning algorithms to achieve
Agarwal et al.
2.2.1 Gray World and Scale by Max approaches
Gray World  and Scale by Max algorithms  are regarded as simple algorithms on
the basis of simplicity of their implementation. They are still used as a benchmark for
comparison when it comes to algorithmic approach to color constancy. The gray world
algorithm is one of the oldest and the simplest color constancy algorithms. It is based on
the assumption that the color in each sensor channel averages to gray over the entire image.
The gray world algorithm estimate the deviation from the assumptions and is given by a
are the mean value in each channel respectively and E
vidual image channels.
In the scale by max algorithm, the estimate of the illuminant is obtained by measuring
the maximum of the responses in each channel. The estimation formulation is very similar
to that of the GW algorithm in equation (2), except for the fact that mean is replaced
by the maximum of the sensor responses in each channel. It is a subset of the Bayesian
approach under the assumption that the reﬂectance is independent and uniform . The
presence of specularities in the images means that the maximum reﬂectance is greater than
pure white and it leads to incorrect illuminant estimation. Alternatively, these specularities
can be used to measure the illuminant chromaticity.
2.2.2 Retinex approaches
The Retinex theory introduced in the late 1970’s by E. Land  is based on the study of
image formation in the human eye and its interpretation by the human vision system. This
approach investigates color constancy behavior from psychophysical experiments. Land
studied the psychological aspects of lightness and color perception of the human vision and
proposed a theory to obtain an analogous performance in machine vision systems. Retinex is
not only used as a model of the human vision color constancy, but is also used as a platform
for digital image enhancement and lightness/color rendition. Land’s Retinex theory is
based on the design of a surround function . Hurlbert  proposed a Gaussian surround
function by choosing three diﬀerent sigma values to achieve good dynamic range compression
and color rendition. From that point onwards, numerous Retinex theory implementations
were published [7, 14, 27, 31, 39, 41, 46, 48] and eﬀort were made to optimize the performance
of the Retinex algorithm by tuning the free parameters . The Multiscale Retinex (MSR)
implementation  intertwined a number of image processing operations and as a result,
the colors are changed in the image in an unpredicted way. Barnard et al.  presented a
way to make MSR operations more clear and to ensure color ﬁdelity.
2.2.3 Gamut approaches
The concept of gamut approach is based on the work of Forsyth  presented in the early
1990’s. It can also be referred to as a constraint based approach because color constancy is
achieved by imposing constraints on the reﬂectance and/or the illuminant of the scene. It
also imposes hard constraints on the range of occurrence of the illuminant [21, 24]. The im-
plementation of gamut algorithms requires the knowledge of the canonical illuminants. The
initial approach was proposed in the RGB color space, so it is also referred to as 3D gamut
mapping algorithm. It is a two step approach. In the ﬁrst step, two possible gamuts are ob-
tained namely, the canonical gamut and the image gamut. The canonical gamut is obtained
by taking the set of all possible (R, G, B) values due to surface reﬂectance under canonical
An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms
illuminant. The choice of the canonical illuminant is arbitrary. Similarly, the image gamut
is obtained by taking the set of all possible (R, G, B) values due to surface reﬂectance under
unknown illumination. Both gamuts are convex and are represented by the convex hull. In
the second step, under the diagonal assumptions, both convex hulls are mapped. The image
gamut is mapped onto the canonical gamut using a linear mapping procedure developed by
Forsyth,  and called Maloney–Wandell EXTension. MWEXT required both the surface
reﬂectance and illuminants to be selected from a ﬁnite dimensional space. This posed some
limitation on the MWEXT. Forsyth suggested an algorithm CRULE (based on coeﬃcient
rule) to solve for the MWEXT limitations. A heuristic approach was adopted to select a
single diagonal mapping from the set of plausible mappings . Finlayson  proposed a
modiﬁcation to Forsyth’s theory  in his work on gamut mapping color constancy in 2D
space. Both [21, 24] used the same heuristic approach for the selection of a single mapping
matrix. Barnard  suggested a mapping selection method based on averaging the set of
feasible mappings in both the chromaticity space and the RGB space. This method is
based on the assumption that all illuminants and their corresponding mappings are equally
probable. Under such assumption, the mean or the expected value is used for the selection
of the single mapping. However, in the 2D perspective method ,unwanted distortion
aﬀected the mapping sets; thereby suggesting that the 2D mean estimation for the selection
of a single mapping is biased in the chromaticity space. Therefore, Finlayson et al. 
suggested a mean estimation from the reconstructed 3D maps. Finlayson et al.  also
proposed angular error and median based mapping selection.
2.2.4 Statistical approaches
Color constancy algorithms discussed under this classiﬁcation are often based on the basic
statistical assumption that the probability distribution of the data is Gaussian. Maximum
likelihood is used as the parameter estimator . However, there are some algorithms
that applied diﬀerent probability distributions  and parameter estimators [10, 25, 50].
Freeman et al.  applied Bayesian theory to color constancy. They provided an insight
on how to use all the information about the illuminant that is contained in the sensor
response, including the information used by the gray world, subspace and physical realiz-
ability algorithms. The algorithms [40, 22] assumed a priori knowledge on the illumination
distribution. The a priori knowledge on the occurrence of the illumination can be assumed
to be uniform, i.e., probability of occurrence of all the illuminants is equal. This assumption
is fair, if the range of occurrences of the illuminant is not known. Alternatively, if the range
of occurrence of the illuminant is known, then apriori information on the illuminant can be
estimated from a speciﬁed set of images within that range.
In their work on Bayesian based color constancy Brainard et al.  and Freeman et
al.  proposed a bilinear modeling technique to estimate the spectral distribution from
the statistical information of the illuminants. The prior information was obtained by using
principal component analysis (PCA). Skaﬀ et al.  extended their work to multiple non-
uniform sensors. They developed a multi-sensor Bayesian technique for color constancy by
sequentially acquiring measurements from independent sensors. Tsin et al.  further im-
proved the work presented in [10, 25] and extended it to outdoor object recognition. They
proposed a simple bilinear diagonal color model and an iterative linear update method
based on maximum a posteriori (MAP) estimation technique. Cubber et al.  applied
Bayesian framework to achieve color constancy and updated the model in order to achieve
correct classiﬁcation of pixels in their color based visual servoing approach. They assumed
a multivariate Gaussian distribution and the dichromatic reﬂectance model which is limited
Agarwal et al.
to inhomogeneous dielectric materials. Rosenberg et al.  presented Bayesian color con-
stancy method using non Gaussian models. They replaced the independent and Gaussian
distribution of the reﬂectance with an exchangeable reﬂectance distribution deﬁned by a
Dirichlet-multinomial model. Rosenberg et al.  also proposed the Kullback-Leibler (KL)
Divergence approach for parameter estimation instead of maximum likelihood approach.
Finlayson et al.  introduced a new method, known as color by correlation. It is based
on the correlation framework to estimate the illuminant chromaticity in the chromaticity
space. Barnard et al.  extended it to 3D space based on two observations: (i) the pixel
brightness makes a signiﬁcant contribution and (ii) the use of its statistical knowledge is
also useful. Sapiro  also proposed an algorithm based on the correlation framework for
2.2.5 Machine learning approaches
Machine learning algorithms are data based approaches. These algorithms involve two
stages, training and testing. In the training stage, the algorithm learns the functional as-
sociation between the input and the output data. Based on the learning, they predict the
output of previously unseen data in the testing stage. So the sample dataset and training
algorithms used in the training stage pretty much deﬁne these approaches. Therefore, pre-
processing of the dataset is very important in order to avoid any undesirable prediction due
Initial learning approaches to color constancy were based on neural networks. Cardei
et al.  and Funt et al.  in their work on color constancy proposed a multilayer
perceptron (MLP) feedforward neural network based approach in the chromaticity spaces.
The proposed network architecture consisted of 3600 input nodes, 400 neurons in the ﬁrst
hidden layer, 40 neurons in the second hidden layer and 2 output neurons. They experi-
mented with both synthetic and real dataset. In the case of real images, signiﬁcantly large
numbers of images were required to train the network. Due to the practical limitation of
collecting a large number of images, Funt et al.  adopted a statistical approach known
as bootstrapping to generate a large number of training images from a small sample of real
images. They showed that neural networks achieved better color constancy than color by
correlation . Ebner  proposed a neural network performing parallel algorithm in the
RGB color space. Moore et al.  addressed the issue of multiple illuminations in their ap-
plication of neural network for color constancy. Nayak et al.  proposed a neural network
approach in the RGB space to achieve color correction for skin tracking. Stanikunas et al.
 performed an investigation of color constancy using neural network and compared it to
the human vision system. They concluded that background color information is important
to achieve human equivalent color constancy in machine vision systems.
Apart from neural networks, there are other machine learning algorithms that have also
been applied to achieve illumination invariance description of a surface reﬂectance. Huang
et al.  used an adaptive fuzzy based method called fuzzy associated memory (FAM) to
recognize color objects in complex background and varying illumination conditions. Funt
et al.  showed how Vapnik’s support vector machines  can be applied to estimate
the illumination chromaticity and also by incorporating the brightness information. They
provided discussion on polynomial and radial basis function kernels. They showed that un-
der controlled (laboratory) conditions support vector machines performs better than neural
networks and color by correlation.
An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms
3. Problem Statement of Tracking
Video tracking is an active research ﬁeld in computer vision. The complexity of the research
can be understood from the fact that it involves optimal integration between hardware (cam-
eras) and software. Most of modern tracking algorithms require tracking to be performed
in real time under unconstrained illumination conditions and in a dynamic environment.
These requirements demand that video tracking algorithms be adaptive to factors, such as,
color variations, changing background, obstructions, and motion of the target. Therefore,
in order to enhance adaptability, tracking algorithms employ multiple moving cameras and
take into account a number of features of the target like shape, size, orientation and color.
Inclusion of more features enhances the adaptability and robustness of the tracking algo-
rithm, but also adds to the complexity of these algorithms. This is similar to the problem
of optimal number of features selection to achieve good classiﬁcation in pattern recogni-
tion. Color is one of the salient features used in tracking algorithms. Therefore, it becomes
important to achieve approximate color constancy of the target. If this is achieved in real
time, then a number of other factors can be discounted. This signiﬁes the importance of
color constancy in real time video tracking applications.
The color constancy algorithms discussed above under each of the individual categories
are well established and have been applied under diﬀerent conditions. From Section 2, we
have the conceptual understanding of color constancy algorithms, the circumstances under
which they are applicable, and computational constraints. Now, we try to identify, whether
it is possible to apply these algorithms in their current form to video tracking.
Sensor based approaches require linear or diagonal transform mapping to obtain illumi-
nant invariant description. These approaches assume that the sensors are calibrated, the
spectral response of canonical illumination known, and uniform illumination. They are vul-
nerable, if these assumptions are violated. In practical applications, these conditions are
diﬃcult to achieve, so their application is restricted. Barnard et al.  showed that Gray
World, Scale by Max, and Gamut mapping algorithms are based on speciﬁc assumptions.
They also mentioned that most of the algorithms make additional assumptions to achieve
solutions. As the assumptions get stronger, the success of the algorithm increases but at the
same time its vulnerability to failure also increases if the assumptions fail. Retinex based
approaches provide good color rendition and improve the dynamic range of the image, for
dark image in particular. However, these algorithms requires parameter optimization to
achieve good color rendition. Optimal selection of parameters is not a trivial issue.
Gamut based approaches require mapping between canonical and image gamuts. The
selection of single mapping between the gamuts from the plausible mappings is not a trivial
issue in both RGB and chromaticity spaces, as discussed in Section 2. These approaches
assume knowledge of the canonical illuminants and range of occurrence of the illuminants.
These are hard constraint based approaches. Barnard et al.  showed that gamut mapping
algorithms are the best at achieving color constancy on real images. Funt et al.  showed
that even gamut mapping is not good enough for object recognition. The non–adaptive
nature, dependency on the knowledge of canonical illumination, and computational com-
plexity accounts for the limitation of the gamut approach.
Statistical approaches are widely used in most of the applications. But the assumption
about the Gaussian distribution model  and prior knowledge of illumination distrib-
ution in most cases, restricts its application. Although, researchers have looked beyond
those assumptions, they have been applied with limited success in some cases . Color
by correlation  is a special case of statistical approaches where the distribution was
Agarwal et al.
modeled from a ﬁxed set of images. These approaches are adaptive and have been extended
to outdoor applications.
Machine learning based approaches provide an interesting alternative to statistical meth-
ods. They learn the dependency between the input and the output from the data presented
to them and are data driven. Nonlinear machine learning approaches, namely, neural net-
work and support vector machines are applied to estimate the illumination chromaticity and
shown to perform better than color by correlation approach as [13, 26]. These approaches
are less dependent on assumptions. However, optimization of neural network and support
vector machines is a complicated issue due to a number of factors. A discussion on these
factors is beyond the scope of this paper, but see [11, 57]. In its present form, both neural
networks and support vector machines are less suitable for many practical applications, as
they take large training time for a respectable amount of training data. The advantages
and disadvantages of these algorithms are summarized in Table 1.
Color constancy and video tracking are two independent areas of research with individual
requirements, constraints, and complexities. From our discussion on color constancy and
video tracking in the above sections, we can observe that color constancy is an essential and
integral part of video tracking research. The requirement of achieving color invariance un-
der unconstrained tracking conditions, is similar to achieving color constancy in real time.
However, it is a challenging problem. In this review, we show that the implementation of
most of the current color constancy algorithms is restricted by numerous constraints and
assumptions, which are violated in real time tracking.
Statistical based and machine learning-based approaches have shown promise, especially
machine learning based approach, which relaxes most of the constraints and assumptions
to achieve good color constancy [13, 26]. However, the optimization of parameters of non-
linear learning approaches restricts its application to real time. In our review on machine
learning based approaches for color constancy, we observed that linear machine learning
algorithms have not been tested for color constancy. It is an unexplored ﬁeld of research in
color constancy. If linear learning techniques can model the association between the color
in the image and illumination chromaticity, then there is a potential that color constancy
can be achieved in real time video tracking.
The main purpose of this review was to evaluate current color constancy algorithms based
on their algorithmic approaches, highlight the importance of color constancy in real time
video tracking, and identify whether the reviewed algorithms can be applied to video track-
ing in their present form. On the basis of our review and comparison of diﬀerent color
constancy approaches, we observed that the application of the reviewed approaches to real
time video tracking has been limited. All the algorithms reviewed in this paper make some
assumption about the statistics of the reﬂectance to be encountered, and most make as-
sumptions about the illuminants that will be encountered. The gray world algorithm makes
assumptions about the expected value of scene average, scale by max algorithm makes the
assumptions about the maximum value in each channel and the gamut mapping algorithms
make assumptions about the ranges of expected reﬂectances and illuminants. Besides these
speciﬁc assumptions, each of the algorithms makes additional assumptions of ﬂat surface
and homogeneous illumination conditions. Moreover, most machine color constancy ap-
proaches cannot handle situations with more than one illumination present in the scene.
The dependency of color constancy algorithms on assumptions has restricted its applica-
tion to unconstrained practical applications like video tracking. Furthermore, their comp-
An Overview of Color Constancy Algorithms
Table 1: Advantages and disadvantages of color constancy algorithms.
– Performs good color
constancy if sensor
– Requires sensor pre-
Gray World and Scale by
– Computationally less
– Analytical solution is
– Less reliable and not
– Depend higly on as-
– Improves the visual ap-
pearance of images.
– Performs better on dark
– Poor color ﬁdelity.
– Requires optimal selec-
tion of free parameters.
– Better color reproduc-
tion than other ap-
– Computationally ex-
– Depends upon sensor
– Assumes uniform illu-
– Requires knowledge of
the range of illuminant.
– Adaptive to changing
– The illumination distri-
bution is obtained from
the knowledge of statis-
tical probabilistic dis-
– Prior knowledge of
the illumination is not
– In real time appli-
assumptions are vio-
– Computationally ex-
pensive in terms of
– Adaptive to changing
– Color constancy can be
achieved from approxi-
mate knowledge of illu-
– Algorithms discussed
are unstable and re-
quire large training
– It is diﬃcult to regu-
larize the estimation of
Agarwal et al.
utational compelxity does usually not allow for real time computations without using ad-
ditional special hardware. One way to overcome these restrictions in the future can be to
design tracking algorithms that are less sensitive to color constancy and at the same time
to achieve rough estimations of color constancy with fewer assumptions, in less time. For
example, machine learning approaches showed less dependency on assumptions, but their
implementation requires optimal selection of number of parameters which imposes restric-
tion on their application to video tracking. Machine learning based approaches, like ridge
regression and kernel regression have not been evaluated to estimate illumination chro-
maticity. It will be interesting in the future to evaluate the performance of either of these
approaches in achieving color constancy. The performance of these algorithms will be of
interest from the real time color constancy point of view in video tracking.
The authors would like to thank Dr. Andrei Gribok for his valuable comments and sug-
gestions. This work was supported by the DOE University Research Program in Robotics
under grant DOE- DE -FG52- 2004NA25589 and by FAA/NSSA Program, R01-1344-48/49.
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