In both humans and experimental animals, the ability to perceive contours that are vertically or horizontally oriented is superior to the perception of oblique angles. There is, however, no consensus about the developmental origins or functional basis of this phenomenon. Here, we report the analysis of a large library of digitized scenes using image processing with orientation-sensitive filters. Our results show a prevalence of vertical and horizontal orientations in indoor, outdoor, and even entirely natural settings. Because visual experience is known to influence the development of visual cortical circuitry, we suggest that this real world anisotropy is related to the enhanced ability of humans and other animals to process contours in the cardinal axes, perhaps by stimulating the development of a greater amount of visual circuitry devoted to processing vertical and horizontal contours.