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Recovery of surface orientation from diffuse polarization

Hancock, Edwin R.; Atkinson, Gary


Edwin R. Hancock


When unpolarized light is reflected from a smooth dielectric surface, it becomes partially polarized. This is due to the orientation of dipoles induced in the reflecting medium and applies to both specular and diffuse reflection. This paper is concerned with exploiting polarization by surface reflection, using images of smooth dielectric objects, to recover surface normals and, hence, height. This paper presents the underlying physics of polarization by reflection, starting with the Fresnel equations. These equations are used to interpret images taken with a linear polarizer and digital camera, revealing the shape of the objects. Experimental results are presented that illustrate that the technique is accurate near object limbs, as the theory predicts, with less precise, but still useful, results elsewhere. A detailed analysis of the accuracy of the technique for a variety of materials is presented. A method for estimating refractive indices using a laser and linear polarizer is also given. © 2006 IEEE.


Hancock, E. R., Atkinson, G. A., & Atkinson, G. (2006). Recovery of surface orientation from diffuse polarization. IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, 15(6), 1653-1664.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jun 1, 2006
Journal IEEE Transactions on Image Processing
Print ISSN 1057-7149
Publisher Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 6
Pages 1653-1664
Keywords diffuse polarization, refractive index, sensitivity study, surface recovery
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : Copyright © 2008 IEEE. Reprinted from "Atkinson, Gary (2006) Recovery of surface orientation from diffuse polarization. IEEE Transactions on Image Processing, 15 (6). pp. 1653-1664". This material is posted here with permission of the IEEE. Such permission of the IEEE does not in any way imply IEEE endorsement of any of the University of the West of England (UWE's) products or services. Internal or personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution must be obtained from the IEEE by writing to By choosing to view this document, you agree to all provisions of the copyright laws protecting it.


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