A review is given of experimental investigations by the author and his collaborators into methods of extracting binary features from images of the face and hands. The aim of the research has been to enable deaf people to communicate by sign language over the telephone network. Other applications include model-based image coding and facial-recognition systems. The paper deals with the theoretical postulates underlying the successful experimental extraction of facial features. The basic philosophy has been to treat the face as an illuminated three-dimensional object and to identify features from characteristics of their Gaussian maps. It can be shown that in general a composite image operator linked to a directional-illumination estimator is required to accomplish this, although the latter can often be omitted in practice.