The impact of variable illumination on vegetation indices and evaluation of illumination correction methods on chlorophyll content estimation using UAV imagery

Yuxiang Wang*, Zengling Yang, Kootstra Gert, Haris Ahmad Khan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The advancements in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology have recently emerged as an effective, cost-efficient, and versatile solution for monitoring crop growth with high spatial and temporal precision. This monitoring is usually achieved through the computation of vegetation indices (VIs) from agricultural lands. The VIs are based on the incoming radiance to the camera, which is affected when there is a change in the scene illumination. Such a change will cause a change in the VIs and subsequent measures, e.g., the VI-based chlorophyll-content estimation. In an ideal situation, the results from VIs should be free from the impact of scene illumination and should reflect the true state of the crop’s condition. In this paper, we evaluate the performance of various VIs computed on images taken under sunny, overcast and partially cloudy days. To improve the invariance to the scene illumination, we furthermore evaluated the use of the empirical line method (ELM), which calibrates the drone images using reference panels, and the multi-scale Retinex algorithm, which performs an online calibration based on color constancy. For the assessment, we used the VIs to predict leaf chlorophyll content, which we then compared to field measurements. Results: The results show that the ELM worked well when the imaging conditions during the flight were stable but its performance degraded under variable illumination on a partially cloudy day. For leaf chlorophyll content estimation, The r2 of the multivariant linear model built by VIs were 0.6 and 0.56 for sunny and overcast illumination conditions, respectively. The performance of the ELM-corrected model maintained stability and increased repeatability compared to non-corrected data. The Retinex algorithm effectively dealt with the variable illumination, outperforming the other methods in the estimation of chlorophyll content. The r2 of the multivariable linear model based on illumination-corrected consistent VIs was 0.61 under the variable illumination condition. Conclusions: Our work indicated the significance of illumination correction in improving the performance of VIs and VI-based estimation of chlorophyll content, particularly in the presence of fluctuating illumination conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number51
JournalPlant Methods
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2023


  • Automated multi-scale Retinex
  • ELM
  • Illumination correction
  • Leaf chlorophyll content estimation
  • UAV images


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