Considering luminance contrast to comprise the building blocks of the photographic language, we aimed to study the connection between viewer's contrast discrimination performance in black-and-white photographs with various contrast reproductions, and their aesthetic appeal. In a previous study we examined the viewer's ability to discriminate contrast increments, applied to discrete regions of the characteristic curves of gray scales versus photographs of Ansel Adams. The photographs belonged to three conceptual categories: portrait, landscape, and architecture. Whereas, contrast discrimination performance in gray scales was very poor in reproductions with altered contrast in the shadows, a significant improvement in performance was observed in the photographs. In the present study subjects performed a contrast preference evaluation task, in which, the reproductions of the photographs were rated for their aesthetic appeal on a five-point scale. The photographs were presented in random order, without indication as to which is the original photograph. Nevertheless, the viewers showed a general preference for photographs with contrast reproductions similar to the original. The results suggest a match between the viewers' and the photographer's preferences. Moreover, the preference decreased systematically with the contrast increment for all reproductions. This tendency seems to be independent of variations in category or spatial configuration. The results are in line with the observed contrast discrimination performance, and also consistent with the anchoring theory and recent propositions of biologically based rules for art creation and appreciation as manifestations of the function of the brain.
S. Gershoni, H. Kobayashi, "How We Look at Photographs as Indicated by Contrast Discrimination Performance Versus Contrast Preference" in Journal of Imaging Science and Technology, 2006, pp 320 - 326, https://doi.org/10.2352/J.ImagingSci.Technol.(2006)50:4(320)