Small changes in daylight in the environment can produce large changes in reflected light, even over short intervals of time. Do these changes limit the visual recognition of surfaces by their colour? To address this question, information-theoretic methods were used to estimate computationally the maximum number of surfaces in a sample that can be identified as the same after an interval. Scene data were taken from successive hyperspectral radiance images. With no illumination change, the average number of surfaces distinguishable by colour was of the order of 10,000. But with an illumination change, the average number still identifiable declined rapidly with change duration. In one condition, the number after two minutes was around 600, after 10 min around 200, and after an hour around 70. These limits on identification are much lower than with spectral changes in daylight. No recoding of the colour signal is likely to recover surface identity lost in this uncertain environment.