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Visual information, in the form of images and video, comes from the interaction of light with objects. Illumination is a fundamental element of visual information. Detecting and interpreting illumination effects is part of our everyday life visual experience. Shading for instance allows us to perceive the three-dimensional nature of objects. Shadows are particularly salient cues for inferring depth information. However, we do not make any conscious or unconscious effort to avoid them as if they were an obstacle when we walk around. Moreover, when humans are asked to describe a picture, they generally omit the presence of illumination effects, such as shadows, shading, and highlights, to give a list of objects and their relative position in the scene. Processing visual information in a way that is close to what the human visual system does, thus being aware of illumination effects, represents a challenging task for computer vision systems. Illumination phenomena interfere in fact with fundamental tasks in image analysis and interpretation applications, such as object extraction and description. On the other hand, illumination conditions are an important element to be considered when creating new and richer visual content that combines objects from different sources, both natural and synthetic. When taken into account, illumination effects can play an important role in achieving realism. Among illumination effects, shadows are often integral part of natural scenes and one of the elements contributing to naturalness of synthetic scenes. In this thesis, the problem of extracting shadows from digital images is discussed. A new analysis method for the segmentation of cast shadows in still and moving images without the need of human supervision is proposed. The problem of separating moving cast shadows from moving objects in image sequences is particularly relevant for an always wider range of applications, ranging from video analysis to video coding, and from video manipulation to interactive environments. Therefore, particular attention has been dedicated to the segmentation of shadows in video. The validity of the proposed approach is however also demonstrated through its application to the detection of cast shadows in still color images. Shadows are a difficult phenomenon to model. Their appearance changes with changes in the appearance of the surface they are cast upon. It is therefore important to exploit multiple constraints derived from the analysis of the spectral, geometric and temporal properties of shadows to develop effective techniques for their extraction. The proposed method combines an analysis of color information and of photometric invariant features to a spatio-temporal verification process. With regards to the use of color information for shadow analysis, a complete picture of the existing solutions is provided, which points out the fundamental assumptions, the adopted color models and the link with research problems such as computational color constancy and color invariance. The proposed spatial verification does not make any assumption about scene geometry nor about object shape. The temporal analysis is based on a novel shadow tracking technique. On the basis of the tracking results, a temporal reliability estimation of shadows is proposed which allows to discard shadows which do not present time coherence. The proposed approach is general and can be applied to a wide class of applications and input data. The proposed cast shadow segmentation method has been evaluated on a number of different video data representing indoor and outdoor real-world environments. The obtained results have confirmed the validity of the approach, in particular its ability to deal with different types of content and its robustness to different physically important independent variables, and have demonstrated the improvement with respect to the state of the art. Examples of application of the proposed shadow segmentation tool to the enhancement of video object segmentation, tracking and description operations, and to video composition, have demonstrated the advantages of a shadow-aware video processing.